Suffolk County will lose nearly 400 employees Saturday through layoffs and retirements, ushering in an era in which all but the most vital services are being cut or reassessed.
Many of the workers walked out the door for the last time Friday, or earlier in the week. In all, 263 employees were laid off as of midnight Saturday; another 113 took a retirement incentive that allowed them to preserve medical benefits, officials said. The incentive remains available until July 31.
The layoffs, which have been expected for months, won't produce further savings this year, as they already are included in the county's three-year deficit projection of $530 million. But County Executive Steve Bellone says the savings may help hold down the number of layoffs in next year's budget.
"I think we'd all like to avoid additional layoffs," said Bellone, who is working on the 2013 budget, which is due in September. "But that means there's some tough decisions yet to be made."
Some employees who are losing their jobs as of Saturday say the cuts will impact services such as public health nursing and inspections of sewage treatment plants.
"We don't know how the county is going to get the work done," said Scott Stocker, a Parks Department auditor whose job expires Saturday, and who has lobbied against layoffs before the legislature. "They don't know the repercussions of what they did."
Bellone took office in January and inherited a list of 464 workers whose positions were only funded through Saturday.
In April, he trimmed the list to about 315, primarily by restoring social service jobs funded by state or federal grants. He subsequently restored another 55 jobs, all grant-funded. Late this month, Bellone's move to lay off 30 security guards, and hire a private firm for their duties, was blocked in court. The guards will remain on the county payroll until at least July 11, when Suffolk will argue in court against a move by unions to stop the guards' layoffs.
Cheryl Felice, the outgoing president of Suffolk's Association of Municipal Employees, said Bellone could have done more to prevent layoffs. She noted that the administration did not offer AME members a retirement incentive until late May, well after layoffs were approved. Only after an outcry from county lawmakers and workers slated to be laid off off did the county make the offer, she said.
The Bellone administration "came in under the premise of changing the way we do business, and including the employees at the table is part of doing business," Felice said. "And it wasn't until we were able to sit down and talk that we achieved some sort of relief in terms of layoffs."
The county says it would have taken more than a retirement incentive to produce the necessary recurring savings.
With Rick Brand