Playing political hardball, County Executive Steve Levy Wednesday threatened to lay off some 750 Suffolk workers next year if county lawmakers don't approve the $36 million sale of the Yaphank nursing home and his fiscal plan.
Levy first first warned of 500 layoffs in a letter to all 6,700 members of the Association of Municipal Employees early in the day, saying the nursing home sale is the "most logical and least disruptive way to go for a vast majority of employees."
Later in a news conference, Levy gave the county legislature a "drop dead date" of Aug. 4 for approval so he can include the money in his proposed 2011 operating budget in September. He said the layoffs would save the county $20 million next year, but the layoffs could grow to 750 or more if other parts of his plan, such as selling industrial land in Yaphank, do not go through.
"Fortunately, we don't have to go down that route," said Levy. "I already have a plan and it will work." If lawmakers fail to vote for his plan or an alternative to close a $150-million budget gap, he said the property tax increase could be "huge," but was not specific.
But presiding officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) accused Levy, who is seeking the GOP nod for governor, of playing politics with the threat of layoffs. "He is trying to show how tough he is to enhance his conservative credentials before the Republican convention," he said. He added Levy cannot impose layoffs; he needs legislative approval.
Levy's threat also could pit the 260 nursing home employees who have been fighting the sale, against 2,500 to 3,500 other county workers who could either lose their jobs or be transferred under the county's seniority system. "Mr. Levy is once again trying his divide and conquer tactics," said Cheryl Felice, AME president.
Levy has maintained that the county loses $8 million to $10 million a year on the 264-bed John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility and the state has recommended that governments turn nursing homes over to private operators. He said a $36-million sale would net the county $20 million after bonds are paid off and save as much as $50 million over five years.
Levy denied any political motive, but accused legislators of "dragging their feet" and not complying with a county law requiring legislature hearings on the sale proposal within two weeks.
Officials also said that one drawback to the nursing home sale - a stipulation that the county might have to repay the buyer up to $2.2 million for lost adult day care slots - has been resolved. State health officials now say the county is approved for 60 day care slots rather than 24 as the state maintained in April.