Counties Expecting Huge Losses

Dutchess could cut up to 200 positions

Dutchess could be forced to cut as many as 200 positions unless President Donald Trump and Congress can strike a deal to help local governments faced with rising COVID-19 expenses, declining revenues and cuts in state aid, County Executive Marc Molinaro said on Thursday (May 21).

Molinaro and the county executives from Westchester and Orange each called for federal aid during a news conference organized by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, whose district includes the Highlands, and conducted by videoconference.

Maloney and other Democrats in the House on May 15 approved a $3 trillion bill that includes $32 billion in aid over two years for local governments in New York. However, just one Republican voted for it, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader of the Senate, which must also approve the measure, lampooned it as “an 1,800-page seasonal catalog of left-wing oddities.”

If the bill as written does get through the Senate and is signed by the president, Dutchess County would receive $165 million over two years and Putnam $55 million, according to Maloney’s office.

Maloney said one local official told him that, without federal aid, the official could be forced to thank someone for “their front-line heroism and then hand them a pink slip.”

For many counties, a big hit is the drastic loss in sales-tax revenue during the shutdown that began in March. Dutchess’ could lose between $18 million and $46 million this year, according to an analysis by the New York State Association of Counties, and Putnam, $5.4 to $13 million.

Absent federal aid, that could mean furloughs or layoffs, William Carlin, the Putnam County finance commissioner, told The Current.

Dutchess’ COVID-19 expenses include several million dollars spent on personal protective equipment like face masks, overtime by county employees and spending for staff and meals at the testing site at Dutchess Stadium, said Molinaro.

Federal aid is needed “if this country wants to grapple and claw its way back onto its feet,” he said. “There would be no greater mistake than, as we start to restart the economy and see small businesses begin to open, to have governments like ours have to engage in massive layoffs.”

The deployment of personnel and equipment has been “open-ended” in Westchester, said County Executive George Latimer during the news conference. Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said his county has not just spent millions on protective equipment.

“Besides masks and gloves, I had to buy body bags; I had to buy coffins,” he said.

In addition to falling sales-tax revenue, Dutchess could lose between $2.1 million and $3.3 million in hotel occupancy and casino taxes, according to NYSAC. Molinaro estimates that the county will see its total revenue fall by between $50 million and $75 million.

“We are looking at significant revenue loss,” he said. “Yet we will have increasing costs.”

Putnam’s sales tax revenue was about $1.5 million over projections in April before dropping by $1.1 million in May, said Carlin. June will be “a very bad month,” he said.

County officials, along with school districts, also are bracing for a significant reduction in aid from the state.

An assessment of COVID-19’s impact on the state budget, released in April, estimates that the state faces a tax-revenue shortfall of $13.1 billion for this fiscal year and $61 billion over four years.

A plan released on April 25 by the state Budget Office calls for $10 billion in cuts this year, including $8.2 billion to schools, local governments, health care, colleges and other traditional beneficiaries of state aid.

Dutchess would lose between $17.4 million and $43.5 million in state aid, and Putnam between $4.4 million and $11.1 million, according to the NYSAC.

“Our expenditures are mostly mandates, so we’ll have to go to the un-mandated programs, and that could involve layoffs, furloughs — everything will be on the table,” said Carlin.

Both Dutchess and Putnam have taken steps to pare expenses from their 2020 budgets. Vacant positions are going unfilled and spending on travel is suspended. Putnam is delaying equipment purchases and limiting overtime, and Dutchess is considering requests to fill essential positions on a case-by-case basis.

2 thoughts on “Counties Expecting Huge Losses

  1. “New York was hit by a major Hurricane causing extensive damage and loss of life.” This is exactly what happened here regarding this pandemic. Washington needs to view this badly needed aid in the same fashion and realize that like the Hurricane many other financial losses occur than just the brunt damage of a storm or pandemic which are in reality one in the same. Politics has no place in being part of what is the right and humane thing to do.

  2. Thanks for a very informative and distressing article.

    The fact is that New York was in trouble long before the COVID crisis, especially New York City, which has been completely mismanaged under DiBlasio’s tenure.

    Probably the worst challenge we face is the “pension bomb” — all those billions of dollars that are owed to public sector employees that are underfunded or which can never be funded if the lock downs continues.

    I was shocked to see how much money the counties have lost in such a short time, especially Putnam. Keep in mind that most of the county budget is funded by sales tax. That can only mean that property taxes will have to be raised considerably to make up the difference. Of course that goes for the school districts as well.

    Which brings us to the question of how this can be done when so many residents have been financially devastated by the lock down — look no further than Cold Spring’s Main Street to see what’s happened. The saying is, “you can’t get blood from a stone” and that is true when it comes to taxpayers.

    It’s long past time for elite public sector employees to get a taste of the real world where there is no such thing as guaranteed salaries, pensions and benefits like most of us in the private sector can only dream of. We now know that at least half of our town and county are non-essential and it is questionable why they are there in the first place. Do what they do in the private sector: lay them off or fire them.

    The only truly essential employees that we rely on 24/7/365 are the unsung heroes of the highway departments who go about their work, maintaining our most important infrastructure, regardless of a virus or anything else.

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