The Rockland County government public employees represented by the CSEA are speaking out against proposed cuts to programs and layoffs in the 2013 county budget. The proposed spending plan was the topic of a public hearing in New City Tuesday night.
The budget, which includes the elimination of 70 positions and cuts to public health programs such as mosquito control and the county’s breastfeeding initiative for new mothers, was presented in late October and has been going through detailed review in the legislature.
CSEA members criticized a variety of cuts, including the breastfeeding program, health benefits packages for county employees, the employee pharmacy, and the prescription drug program. In addition, several CSEA members claimed that the proposed cuts meant that the county was entertaining the possibility of breaching their previous contract with the union.
CSEA President P.T. Thomas spoke out against the layoffs saying that if the budget cuts interfered with their prior contract or the public ownership of Summit Park nursing home, the CSEA would pursue legal action to counter what he calls a “privatization effort” against the troubled healthcare center.
“Our stand is that Summit Park should stay as a public entity,” Thomas said. “We may even be forced to put the issue on a referendum in the coming ballot.”
Thomas also suggested $11 million cuts to legislator positions and eliminating the position of the county executive entirely, emphasizing what he said was the importance of focusing cuts upon small numbers of high earners rather than low-level service positions.
Laurie Messenger, whose position with the breastfeeding program could be cut in the current budget plan, criticized County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef for emphasizing the elimination of departments over eliminations of positions, a move which Messenger described as misleading.
Messenger also stressed the importance and economic value of retaining public health programs, a common theme among many healthcare workers who spoke.
“Prevention saves money by keeping people healthy,” Messenger said.
In defense of the budget, president of the Rockland Business Association Al Samuels said that while he felt that the legislature should be more active in modifying the spending plan and open to suggestions from outside consultants and experts who have reviewed the budget, the budget as it stands “represents a direly needed reality check” and should be carefully considered by the body.
“There are things in this budget that are very hard,” Samuels said. “For some of you, many of them are harder than others because you have great commitment to some of the things that are represented by them, and we understand, but it’s time for the county legislature to vote for the entity that is Rockland County, because if Rockland doesn’t survive, no component of Rockland can.”
Budgetary meetings and public hearings are expected to continue throughout the coming weeks, with the next budgetary review scheduled for November 26.