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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 12, 2009
As deficit looms
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND To avoid wage freezes and layoffs, Supervisor Kenneth Runion says he is cutting overtime hours for town workers and cutting back hours for some jobs.
Although Runion rejected a proposal from Councilman Warren Redlich in November to freeze salaries of elected and appointed officials, he came up with the current plan after county sales tax revenue plunged in December. Guilderland gets about two-thirds of its current $15 million budget revenues from sales tax.
Sales tax revenue looked solid for most of 2008, but the fourth quarter showed a sudden downward trend that pointed to trouble for 2009. Runion provided figures that showed the fourth quarter of 2008 was down approximately 7.5 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2007. That’s a difference of nearly $200,000 for Guilderland.
The town had counted on getting $10 million in 2009, and the pattern shows it would receive only about $9.7 million, meaning a deficit of approximately $300,000, which would have to be made up in property tax if there were no spending cap. Guilderland residents currently pay 26 cents per $1000 of assessed property value.
As the town’s chief financial officer, Runion can make financial decisions without going through the town board for approval, as long as they don’t involve contracts. Recent decisions include cutting back job hours and putting the town on an emergency spending plan. Others, like the overtime cuts, will be brought before the town board for consideration at the next meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 17.
Overtime to be cut
The change that will affect the most town employees involves cutting overtime hours. Three departments taking the hit will be the court, paramedics, and the police. Court clerks are working regular 40-hour weeks and generating overtime the two nights a week that court is in session. Rather than continue this way, Runions want to institute flex hours for the clerks. Instead of working from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then coming back from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for court, the clerks would come in for the day at 11 a.m. or noon and work straight through. Runion projects a savings of $18,000 for the year from using flex hours in the court.
Things will be a bit different for the paramedics and police department. For the paramedics, the newest member of the team would be used to cover open shifts, rather than other, more highly paid members picking up extra hours. Similarly, in the police department, the two newest members would be brought in to cover open shifts, which include those left vacant due to injury and illness. According to Runion, other staff, including administrative personnel, would be available to help cover the regular shifts of the newest officers when they are needed elsewhere.
Police officers would also be banking compensatory time rather than getting paid for generating extra hours. The clause would stipulate that officers could use the banked comp time if it wouldn’t generate overtime for other members of the force. Runion says this part of the agreement shouldn’t simply delay spending the extra money, because the department doesn’t have a high rate of retirement and banked compensatory time shouldn’t have to be paid out during this temporary arrangement.
Brian Forte, president of the Police Benevolent Association and a senior patrolman, said the PBA has been working closely with Runion and the town. “The town has asked us to cooperate with their plans in order to avoid lay-offs,” said Forte. “No one is ever happy to see a reduced salary, but everyone on the force understands the need to cooperate, and we’re doing everything we can to maintain our numbers.”
Working for compensatory time rather than overtime compensation would be a new clause in the police contract, Forte said. The PBA hasn’t yet ratified the agreement to use the two junior members of the force to cover extended vacancies.
Csaposs’s hours slashed
In addition to cutting overtime, some town positions are being reduced from full-time to part-time. The most significant of these is grant writer, Donald Csaposs, whose position has already been cut from 35 hours per week to 25 hours. According to Runion, the availability of grants has diminished with the troubled economy, and the labor to support a 35-hour week just isn’t there.
Csaposs told the Enterprise that, while nobody is ever thrilled to take such a cut, “It is what it is. We’re in an economic climate where everyone must do the best they can with less. My plan is to work as hard as I can to get as much done as possible in the hours I’m allocated.” He agrees that the decision to reduce the hours is due to the conjecture of less grant money being available.
Other measures taken to tighten the budget include Runion’s putting the town on an emergency spending plan, which he instituted in November. Department heads previously had the ability to approve of certain purchases, including office supplies. This is no longer the case.
Every purchase must now go through the supervisor’s office for approval. No one can even “buy a paper clip or toner for the copier without getting pre-approval,” said Runion.
He also wants to scale back on some of the bigger expenses that are not absolutely necessary. As an example, Runion spoke of repairing some of the older police cruisers rather than purchasing new ones. Under the emergency spending plan, Runion hopes to save between $100,000 to $150,000.
“I am monitoring this situation very closely to ensure we don’t get to a point where we need to look at wage freezes and lay-offs,” said Runion. “We’ll do whatever we have to do to get through another year or two.”