Suffolk's payroll ax hits lower-paid workers hardest

Scott Stocker, one of the workers whose jobs Scott Stocker, one of the workers whose jobs were cut last year in Suffolk County, sits in his Patchogue home studying papers on the overall workforce reduction of which he was a part. (March 22, 2013) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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Employees making less than $75,000 bore the brunt of Suffolk County's record payroll reductions last year, a Newsday analysis shows.

The county shed a net of 643 full-time positions, or 6 percent of the workforce, through layoffs, early retirements and attrition between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2012.

Positions paying less than $75,000 in annual base salary accounted for nearly two-thirds of the loss, and were cut disproportionately to higher-earning workers, appointed or unionized.

County Executive Steve Bellone says Suffolk now may have to shed as many as 350 more jobs -- primarily unionized health care positions of the type that were common in last year's cuts -- to close a new $250 million budget gap. The 2012 job cuts, including benefits, will save taxpayers $64 million annually, he said.

 

'Do more with less'

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"Every part of our government has to learn to do more with less," Bellone, a Democrat, said in his state of the county address last month.

Payroll data from the comptroller's office show:

The health and public works departments each lost more than 12 percent of their staffs, many of them low-paid clerks and custodians. Suffolk police, with the highest number of six-figure earners of any department, shrank by 5 percent and will regain most positions this year in promotions and a recruit class.

The Association of Municipal Employees, the county's largest union, lost about 12 percent of its blue-collar members and 8 percent of white-collar workers -- 463 of the 643 jobs lost. But the ranks of some 500 appointed managers, who include highly paid employees in the county legislature and the district attorney's office, shrank by only nine, a decrease of about 2 percent.

Nearly 200 workers making less than $50,000 a year lost their jobs last year, a reduction of 8 percent. The number of employees making more than $100,000 in annual base salary -- many of them police officers -- dropped by 161, or 5.6 percent, while the count of top-level administrators who earn more than $150,000 rose by six, or 5.1 percent. Bellone said that was necessary to fill key jobs left vacant at the end of County Executive Steve Levy's administration. He said he still chose to leave many open in an effort to save money.

Workers making less than $75,000 in base salary accounted for $19.5 million, or 43 percent, of the net savings -- not including benefits and other pay -- from the 2012 cuts. Those making more than $100,000 accounted for 38 percent of the savings.

"Despite the representations by the Bellone administration, there was no equity to this at all," said Legislative Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset). Noting two recent administrative appointments by Bellone, Kennedy said, "If we had fewer $95,000-a-year assistants to the commissioners, maybe we could keep some more $25,000 clerk typists."

Bellone said that although he was under the gun last year as he faced a possible multiyear budget deficit of $530 million upon taking office, he had handled the cuts fairly.

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200 positions saved

Bellone saved 200 positions on a layoff list he inherited from Levy, and while he hired several high-paid deputies to lead new government efficiency and economic development teams, he laid off 12 county attorneys to pay for them. Bellone also said that civil service layoff rules allow senior workers to "bump" the less-tenured, which leads to more cuts to lower-paid positions.

"If the definition of fairness is we just cut equally across the board, I reject that as being the best way to run any organization," Bellone said, noting that some departments were more inefficient than others, and that his executive staff of 18 people is still a third smaller than it was in 2011, Levy's last year in office.

"We've streamlined government, consolidated departments, reduced positions by 700 and reduced overtime significantly," Bellone said.

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But Scott Stocker, a $62,000-a-year parks department auditor who was laid off last July 1, said, "You already had a county workforce that was pared to the bone through attrition over the last years of Levy, so you didn't have much fat. Then . . . [Bellone] took the butcher's cleaver and started dismantling from there."

Stocker still is seeking work.

Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), chairman of the government operations and personnel committee, said Bellone is limited in what cuts he can make because the state mandates many social services and corrections functions.

"The blue-collar, low level of the totem pole, they're taking the biggest hit and it's unfortunate," Calarco said. "But we're doing almost nothing but core responsibilities. That doesn't leave much room."

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