Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp, 2011

More than 5,000 Nassau County workers will be able to take unpaid, voluntary furloughs as the county scrambles to close a projected multimillion-dollar budget deficit and unions seek to avoid future layoffs.

County Executive Edward Mangano and the Civil Service Employees Association announced an agreement Thursday that will make nearly 5,000 full-time union employees eligible to take as many as 60 days off a year, with a maximum of 20 consecutive days. The program also will be open to roughly 500 appointed employees, but not to law enforcement.

"I am encouraged [that] CSEA leaders and I [are] moving toward constructive solutions that will protect taxpayers and county positions that deliver important services," Mangano said.

Deputy County Executive Rob Walker said it was too soon to tell how much money the program, which will begin immediately and remain open through Aug. 1, 2013, will save the county or if proposed layoffs, announced last month, can be avoided.

"This program was designed to further mitigate any future layoffs, and hopefully remove the threat of layoffs altogether," said CSEA president Jerry Laricchiuta. "This is a completely voluntary program, but we feel it is something that some members might take advantage of, especially now during the summer months."

Furlough days won't count against employees' personal or vacation days and won't affect their health benefits, according to the agreement. Nassau department heads will have the discretion to approve furloughs, which cannot result in overtime or the hiring of new staff, Walker said.

The furloughs represent another step by Mangano to close the county's 2012 budget gap, which Comptroller George Maragos estimates at $45 million. Voluntary furloughs also were offered by former county executives Thomas Gulotta and Thomas Suozzi in 2001 and 2009, respectively.

Last month, Mangano directed department heads to draw up layoff lists to reduce their personnel spending by 3.5 percent.

The county also offered a retirement incentive to CSEA members this month that will pay departing employees $1,000 for every year of service with the county. A total of 61 employees took the deal. About 40 law enforcement positions also have been lost in recent months through attrition, county officials said.

Earlier this week, Mangano announced a deficit-reduction plan that calls for 100 new layoffs and major cuts to public works projects and departmental spending.

Mandatory furloughs also are possible under a bill the GOP-led county legislature approved in May. The legislation, under court challenge by all five county labor unions, would allow Nassau to reopen labor contracts and reduce its contributions to health benefits.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt is expected to decide the case later this month or in early August.

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