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Sullivan County Legislature Postpones Pay Cut Resolution After Heated Debate

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Following an argument over communication, the Sullivan County Legislature Friday afternoon moved a resolution to cut the salaries of a number of county employees to an executive agenda in a few weeks. The cuts were proposed by the county manager to help stem the fiscal impacts of COVID-19.

Sullivan County Manager Josh Potosek had recommended the Legislature approve a temporary reduction in the salaries of 87 county employees. He says, effective July 1 and through December 31, all management/confidential employees would receive a 4 percent reduction in their annual salaries, reducing their take-home pay for the year by about 2 percent. Potosek said so in an email to affected employees Thursday. He says this layer of cuts would follow temporary layoffs

“It’s not going to solve all our budget problems but it, I think it’s going to be some shared sacrifice to get through this process. And management’s not going to be immune to potential salary reductions or cost reductions elsewhere,” Potosek says. “So I think it was kind of a lead by example here from a management group that we need to, all the way down the line needed to share this burden of these huge revenue losses that we’re facing.”

But during a special session of the county legislature Friday afternoon, a few legislators took issue with learning of the resolution on short notice, via text or otherwise, and without discussion. Democrat Nadia Rajsz.

“I’m very disappointed that we did not have any discussion on this. This is like hitting me like a lead balloon,” Rajsz says. “There was no discussion. Maybe the five of you knew what was happening…but, let me finish…”

“No, no, no, let me discuss. I’m the chair, ok?” Doherty says. “So you were texted; Ira was texted, and Joey was texted.”

“I’ll show you what the text said,” Rajsz says. “It was very cryptic.”

“Very cryptic?” Doherty asks.

“Very cryptic,” says Rajsz.

She continued:

“We knew COVID existed from March. We knew we were in the crapper. We knew things were not going to get better. We knew, with the layoffs, right, at that point in April, that things were not going to get better with the state budget,” Rajsz says. “Why didn’t we get together and start talking about how we can resolve this besides taking away money from these people who are working shorthanded, working twice as hard and, to boot, did not know that  this was happening,” says Rajsz. “There was an email sent a-quarter-to-four yesterday to some of the commissioners and department heads. This is, I’ve never seen anybody lead a group like this. This is an absolute sham.”

Democratic Minority Leader Ira Steingart also took issue with communication and agreed with Rajsz.

“You can’t just make a decision as chairman and not have, and bring the rest, the other eight of us in and not have a discussion,” Steingart says.

Republican Legislature Chair Robert Doherty:

“Ira, when I texted the three of you, I did not get any response whatsoever, not what is this about, do you have more information? Do you, were we going with this? Who else is doing this? Nothing,” says Doherty.

The back-and-forth and talking over one another continued. Republican Legislator Luis Alvarez also criticized the way the resolution was handled and how he was not included. Potosek, who was present during the session, had expected the legislature to approve the pay cuts given his conversations with some of the legislators and the willingness of a number of them to voluntarily take pay cuts themselves.  Speaking to WAMC earlier in the day, Potosek described the type of positions where salaries would be cut.

“The county manager appoints what we call commissioners, they oversee big divisions, and then there’s department heads underneath them. That’s the vast majority of this group,” says Potosek. “There some other financial positions that aren’t in a union.”

Potosek says he would cut his salary by 8 percent, or 4 percent on a calendar-year basis.

“From a leadership perspective, I think it’s, I can’t ask other people underneath me and asking them to do a lot of work and step up, and especially in this time of crisis, and not take as much or more of a hit than they are, than they’re doing. And it’s something you see on the private sector  where CEOs take a little bit more of a hit than some of the more rank-and-file or management groups,” Potosek says. “I thought it was necessary to show that I’m serious about preserving jobs and keeping our budget going and not having to raise taxes or cut services, so I think that’s where I was coming in that perspective.”

Elected officials, except for coroners, also fall under the management/confidential category as county employees, but the salary reduction would be a voluntary choice for them. At least nine, including Chairman Doherty, treasurer, district attorney and county clerk, have already agreed to have their pay cut at the same rate as non-elected employees. Steingart says he would add his name to those who would voluntarily cut their pay, to be stated in a revised resolution. Potosek says the pay cuts would save around $200,000 for a county deficit that amounts to as much as $20 million.

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