It was about a year ago when Robyn Richi found herself in a similar position to the one she was in Tuesday night.
On Tuesday, an emotional Richi stood in front of the Rockland County Legislature pleading with them to not eliminate her job working security at the Summit Park Hospital in Pomona.
“We’ve really got to stop meeting like this,” Richi said to the legislators.
For the second straight year, Richi’s job was eliminated in a proposed budget. Last year, when the legislators adopted an altered budget, her job was saved. To find out if the legislators will save her job again, Richi will have to wait until the legislature’s Dec. 4 meeting, when they vote to approve the budget proposed by the county executive, or instead adopt a budget with changes.
On Tuesday, the legislature held a public hearing on the 2013 proposed budget. Richi was one of 15 people to speak during the public hearing, and said she wasn’t speaking just for her own sake. She felt that as a supervisor, she had to speak out for the other 18 people in her department.
“I think we do a great job,” she said. “I’m really proud of our guys.”
She told the legislators that they wouldn’t just be hurting the 19 people in her department, but 19 families as well.
“Sometimes it’s not a political thing,” she said. “It’s just the right thing.”
Richi, like many others who spoke, felt the layoffs in the proposed budget are for budgetary reasons. Layoffs for budgetary reasons are not allowed according to the new Rockland County CSEA contract signed earlier this year for the duration of the agreement, which runs through Dec. 31, 2013.
Laurie Messinger, of the health department, also felt the layoffs were for budgetary reasons, calling the layoffs a “clear breach of the CSEA contract.”
Messinger runs the breastfeeding and child injury prevention programs, as well as assists with other programs. She said cutting departments that run programs that can educate residents, especially younger residents, about healthy and safe ways to live doesn’t add up.
“Prevention saves money by keeping people healthy,” she said.
Messinger added that the talk of layoffs in recent years has left employees dejected.
“The morale of county employees is at an all-time low,” she said. “We’re not the cause of the county’s fiscal problems, but the burden is being placed on our shoulders.”
That was a point Rockland County CSEA President P.T. Thomas touched on quite a bit during his speech at the public hearing. Thomas also offered some advice on creating the budget for the county.
“I can create this budget in Excel in two weeks and with our advanced program like PeopleSoft, for which we spent a lot of money, the county should be able to create this budget in two days with so many people working on this,” he said.
Thomas said the county operated without a county executive for many years, so why not eliminate the Office of the County Executive? He also said that Westchester has a population of nearly a million people and Rockland’s population is a little more than 315,000 people, according to the most recent Census. Yet, both counties have 17 legislators. Thomas said Rockland’s number of legislators should be cut to six. He added he would cut down the number of commissioners and managers in the Department of Health and Budget Department.
“If you want to save money, abolish the Office of the County Executive, bring down the number of legislators to six and outsource tourism to Priceline or Travelocity and let PeopleSoft do the budget,” he said. “Let one commissioner manage the Departments of Health, Mental Health and Hospitals, and let five managers do other administrative works of these departments.”
CSEA members handed out yellow CSEA t-shirts to people on their way into the meeting. The shirts read: “People over profit and politics.”
CSEA Southern Region President, Billy Riccaldo also spoke during the public hearing, saying that during the recent storm he received a call telling him one department of three people went into Summit Park on their own time to make sure the residents had clean linen.
“No manager, no commissioner, nobody told them to do that,” he said. “They did that because they love those residents and what they do.”
He added that department is one being cut in the proposed budget. He also admonished the current administration.
“It’s really a shame what’s going on here, and who’s paying for it? The employees, the residents and everybody in the county,” he said.
Rockland Business Association President Al Samuels said his organization commissioned Hudson Valley Pattern For Progress, which he called one of the most respected think tanks in the state, to write a white paper on the county’s fiscal issues. He read the opening paragraphs of the introduction, which stated that the county legislators are the ones who will make the decisions to either help Rockland out of the financial crisis or dig the county in deeper.
“The proposed 2013 budget represents a direly needed reality check,” the paper read. “However, we must note that the county legislature during the past several years has abdicated much of its oversight and responsibility. The county executive may have offered inaccurate revenue and spending projections, but the county legislators almost universally adopted those projections without change.”
Samuels said he has faith in the county legislators.
“It’s time for the county legislature to vote for the county of Rockland, for the entity that is Rockland County,” he said. “If Rockland doesn’t survive, no component of Rockland can.”