Part of the city of Plattsburgh’s plan to stabilize its budget includes the elimination of four city departments. When councilors voted this summer to approve the plan in an attempt to save more than a million dollars in the 2018 budget, the department heads anticipated they would have their jobs until the end of the year. But now they have been notified that they must leave on October 4th.
The city of Plattsburgh eliminated the Engineering, Recreation and IT departments after Mayor Colin Read broke tie votes. Councilors unanimously approved abolishing the Human Resources Department. Functions were to be absorbed into other city departments by December 31st. During the council meeting on Sept. 21st Ward 2 Councilor Mike Kelly presented a resolution to lay off the heads of the affected departments early. “And whereas the city is also required to abolish the positions in such departments and establish the effective date of the abolition of such positions are hereby abolished effective October 4th, 2017. Any holders of such positions and or titles shall be laid off effective that date.”
Councilors unanimously approved the resolution. Mayor Read said the move allows a wider latitude for the transition and consolidation of departments. “The city is permitted to lay individuals off with one week’s notice but we felt we wanted to give at least four week’s notice to some individuals and we even for some of those individuals said if you’d like to identify another work plan to extend this time farther we’d be willing to have those conversations with you as well. So we thought we were actually being very, very flexible in it.”
While the decision was made in a public council meeting, the most outspoken of the departing department heads, Recreation Director Steve Peters, says he received formal notification that his job was ending early by email. “I had heard some grumblings here and there about an accelerated timeline. There’s no question there’s some kind of financial structural issue going on. What the degree of that is I’m still skeptical but there’s no question that the mayor is very very well skilled at that fiscal policy and fiscal management piece. But a mayor also has to know people as well. I’ve, you know, struggled obviously with the way that this has been handled because I’m personally affected. And I’m going to admit that I’m biased here. You know there’s a different approach here on, you know, how to handle and how to treat people.”
The mayor says the reshuffling resolves a shortfall in the fund balance. “The council wanted the latitude to do these things a little bit earlier when and if we could so we could bank some savings for the city. As you know we were anticipating a $400,000 negative fund balance for this year. Between this effort and some of the other ways we’ve tried to economize on spending and procurement we’re hoping to see if we can get that $400,000 as close to in the black as we possibly can rather than in the red. So I’m still hopeful that we can do that. We expect to save somewhere around $150,000, $200,000 in doing these transition plans earlier than December 31st.”
Meanwhile Peters believes the savings the council is hoping for may only be a short-term remedy. “The folks that are left are going to be doing very well on their own for a little while. The problems that I see are they’re not going to be able to meet the demands of the revenue generation that I projected for 2018 because when I projected it I was presuming that myself and other employees would be here. So I don’t see the city saving as much as the mayor says they’re going to save because I don’t see the ability for a very, very small group of people to bring in this large amount of revenues. It takes a lot of work. I think they’re going to be sadly disappointed when the revenues don’t come in as projected.”
The heads of the Recreation, Human Resources and Engineering departments will be laid off on October 4th.
The mayor says a soft hiring freeze and attrition has helped save the city between $500,000 and $700,000 so far this year.