County votes to furlough some employees
SCHUYLER COUNTY--The Schuyler County Legislature voted unanimously to allow County Administrator Tim O'Hearn to furlough potentially 41 county employees for a minimum of 30 days starting Monday, April 20. When asking for the legislature to authorize his plan, O'Hearn said the furlough is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic's potentially catastrophic impact on the local economy. The virtual meeting was held online with legislators in remote locations throughout the county.
"We are expecting catastrophic numbers the rest of the year with a $1-$2 million shortfall in sales tax. While we have a budget in place it would be irresponsible to not take into account (these changes)," O'Hearn said.
Along with the expected shortfall in sales tax revenue, O'Hearn told the board that he has been told to expect the state will reimburse the county roughly 15 percent less than originally expected pre-pandemic. Representing roughly 13 percent of all county employees, O'Hearn said the savings resulting from the furlough of 41 county workers could amount to over $100,000 per month.
"We need to be proactive in positioning us to not permanently negatively affect our budget," O'Hearn said. "Going forward we will do anything we can to do to salvage our economic resources to help for putting together a 2021 budget."
While making it clear that furloughs are not a layoff, O'Hearn did say that employees being furloughed will not be paid while they are not working.
"A furlough is not a layoff, we are temporarily suspending employees' pay and responsibilities with the intent to bring every employee back. They will remain on our health insurance and accrue time benefits, they just will not be paid during this time period," O'Hearn said.
He added that employees affected by the furlough will be eligible for unemployment benefits in the interim.
"These employees put on furlough effective next week will be eligible for unemployment and enhanced unemployment through the federal stimulus plan," O'Hearn said. "Every employee affected by this will receive a larger compensation package as a result of the federal stimulus in place."
When questioned whether or not he has confidence that unemployment benefits will be delivered in a timely manner, O'Hearn said he expects benefits to kick in for those impacted by the furlough just when they would have received their next paycheck or possibly before.
"This is not something entertained lightly, but we need to do something to negate the devastating impact we are going to be feeling (as a result of COVID-19)," O'Hearn added.
O'Hearn mentioned he plans on revisiting the issue every 30 days.
Schuyler County Public Health Director Deborah Minor gave an update on the local COVID-19 cases, saying that just on Monday another person, bringing the total to nine, had tested positive for the virus. As it stands, Minor said eight people who had tested positive have recovered while 183 people have tested negative with 21 people currently in isolation.
"The age ranges are quite varied, from 20 to 79," Minor said.
Schuyler County Emergency Services Coordinator Bill Kennedy also spoke and said that he is working to ensure local hospitals have the necessary personal protection equipment needed should a local outbreak of COVID-19 occur.
"The hospital is working very diligently to help us with what they need and limiting what they are using, conserving it. We don't have the issues downstate with a lack of PPE but we could run into that if things pick up," Kennedy said.
Another concern Kennedy addressed is that there is currently a lack of space to store victims who do not survive the virus, even more so than usual due to the winter, which could cause issues should a local outbreak occur.
The board also voted unanimously to spend $4,900 on 20 Zoom license subscriptions and equipment to set up two rooms as Zoom hubs, which would allow live broadcasting to the public.
The meeting, which was the first Schuyler County Legislative meeting to be held remotely on Zoom, was beset by early problems when someone entered the meeting and began playing explicit sounds whenever someone tried to talk, along with drawing obscene images on the screen for everyone to see.
"We were hacked in the beginning but I think we eliminated the person that was the problem," O'Hearn said after the meeting.