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TOB’s Waiting For Union’s Negotiation Call

With layoffs on the table, Supervisor Venditto leaves the door open for union negotiations

Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto is still struggling to solve the town’s cash flow problems. To solve the TOB budget problems he needs union concessions or the town workers will experience layoffs.

Finding a solution began with a retirement offer which included $1,000 for each year of service which was accepted by 89 employees whose last day with the town was Aug. 30. They will receive the funds in a single payment at the end of October. It will be paid with a $7.5 million 10-year bond. The payment included any unused or sick days owed. The workers are guaranteed health care for life and for a surviving spouse, for five years (this is not a reduction or increase, but the same as the current contract).

At the May 15 board meeting the retirement incentive was on the calendar and Supervisor Venditto said he was hoping to get 220 town employees to accept early retirement for a budget reduction of $10 million that would put the town on track financially. He said his aim was not to hire new people but to let talented people already on the staff step up to new positions. On the town calendar that day was a resolution to override the state’s 2 percent budget cap but it was tabled as he worked for a solution that does not include a tax increase.

On Aug. 30, the 89 retirees walked away from the town. The offer was available to fewer than 300 employees 55 or more years of age and who were with the town for at least five years.

The number of people accepting the buyout wasn’t sufficient. On Sept. 13, Supervisor Venditto and the town board sent a letter to town employees to explain just where he was in finding the solution. He said previous union contracts were “the highest rated contracts in the entire State of New York.” He said while the town has been fiscally prudent, cut discretionary spending and encouraged early retirements still, “the ongoing recession has forced our town to deal with an operating budget shortfall (of $13 million).”

The supervisor said at the start of negotiations they requested an immediate payroll lag [a delay in payments], no pay increases in either 2012 or 2014, with a return to the contractual increase in 2015 (4 percent pay increase plus a step, an automatic incremental increase).  He said, “The offer also included a no-layoff clause, with no change to your health benefits. Unfortunately, on August 1st, your union leaders rejected the administration’s request.”

He said they have begun the layoff process although he was keeping the lines of communication open with the union saying, “When there is time there is hope.”

The 2012-13 Budget

When the town passed their current budget in October 2011, CSEA Local 881 President Robert Rauff Jr. sat in the audience in the town hearing room with several of his department members. Supervisor Venditto acknowledged Mr. Rauff and told the audience that the two were friends — had a good working relationship and that when he needed help, Mr. Rauff got his workers to do the needed task. That budget gave the workers a 3 percent raise, the year before they received a 2 percent raise. Based on those comments last year, now Mr. Venditto said, “...because of our family-like relationship with our union,” he hoped they would find a solution.

During the Sept. 4 board meeting Supervisor Venditto kept alluding to the town’s finances during several hearing discussions. He said, “Our bond rating has been downgraded... We are cash poor and asset rich... While other municipalities have infrastructure problems, we are in good shape.” He added, “We had 14 years of good bond ratings... (now) layoffs are eminent.”

The town has been involved in capital improvements to the infrastructure — creating a great system of parks and recreational facilities — but the result is paying off the debt service. But in the supervisor’s view, “The economic crisis is temporary, the town is forever.”

Currently the town has $674 million in debt, according to state reports. In the current budget the town listed debt service, paid on the principal of their loans as $47,665,000; debt service interest paid on their loans as $22,650,335. They are paying down the principal as they pay interest on their loans at a total figure of $70,315,335.

With the town’s bond rating going down, they will be paying more for that debt service going forward.

The TOB budget total for 2012 was/is $262,464,593. Of that, the budget listed salaries as: $95,845,161 and employee benefits as $17,502,613 for a total amount of $113,347,774 for staffing.

For the remainder of 2012, the salary decrease as a result of those taking early retirement is $3.4 million. In the 2013-14 budget they will see a decrease of $10.5 million. The town is currently preparing their next budget with Oct. 16 as the hearing date, at both 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Some Criticism

Terry Kelly, who ran for a seat on the town board last year said, “The town’s purpose is to provide service to the citizens and not jobs for the workers. They should provide the services at the lowest cost possible and with the fewest workers. It is unfortunate that people are losing their jobs but the town employment rolls were bloated in the past with patronage jobs. Now to find a solution they are borrowing a million a month to pay their bills. The last $10 million was for retirement benefits. They gave lifetime benefits. The costs are outrageous.

“Eighty-nine people took advantage of the retirement package which included $1,000 for each year served and lifetime health benefits,” he said.

It should be noted that once the people have retired, those payments will come out of state funds. The people who have retired will have no un-employment payments but if people are laid off the town will be paying into that unemployment bucket.

Mr. Kelly added, “Especially in these times, losing your job is sad, but it appears the town made up jobs when someone needed them. They created an unnecessary service such as the public safety department to employ people. It has a commissioner and three assistants.

“They were paying messengers to deliver things in the same town hall. If you need to send something to the other branch, use Fed Ex with no benefits, instead of paying someone $50 grand with benefits.

“The public safety department costs $7 million for a department of 56 people including the commissioner and four assistant commissioners with special skill sets. What kind of expertise, in boats, the harbor and weather is needed? All you need is one person in charge. You don’t need that many management positions. That is how you get a bloated system.”

Mr. Kelly said he doubted the union would give the asked-for concessions and that could mean layoffs. “It is unfortunate but necessary. We’re broke. They spend more than they bring in and they borrow, which carries a cost,” he said.

Who’s Left For Layoffs

The town public information office said that 89 of 1,261 town employees took the town’s retirement package. Those remaining may feel the pressure to ask their union leaders to negotiate. In some school districts, teachers allowed their unions to accept no raises to help retain fellow teachers. Calls to the TOB union, CSEA Local 881, went unanswered.

As of now: public works had 349 employees, 16 left; parks had 245 workers and 15 accepted retirement; the highway department had 197 employees, 13 have left; the community and youth services department had 66 employees and nine have left; planning and development had 77 employees of which seven have left; general services had 45 employees and five have left.

The receiver of taxes lost five of 18 staffers. Environmental resources lost four out of 51 employees. The department of intergovernmental affairs lost four of 24 workers. The town board employed 27 people and three have left. The comptroller’s office had 36 employees and two have left. There were 14 people in human resources and two have left. Public safety lost two out of 56 staff members.

The town clerk’s office had 17 employees and one has left. The supervisor’s office had 16 staffers of whom one left.

The town attorney’s office has 23 people on staff and none took the retirement package. The town has often hired outside attorneys when it sees the need in special cases.