Schoharie County brings furloughed workers back

Schoharie County has recalled all of its furloughed workforce, according to County Administrator Steve Wilson. 

The county's Board of Supervisors voted in April to furlough 95 employees with a guaranteed end date for the furloughs of Friday, July 31.

However, Wilson told The Daily Star on Thursday, July 30, that all the furloughed workers were back on the job by Monday, July 24. 

A small number of the furloughed workers were brought back much sooner, Wilson said, including many needed for highway repairs, and some who were able to return to working after the state's "On Pause" response to the coronavirus pandemic allowed them to return to their offices. The remainder were brought back a few days early to ensure they did not lose any extra federal unemployment benefits, which were set to expire and had not been renewed by Congress at press time Friday.

The furloughs were projected to save the county about $800,000, Wilson said, but with the early returnees, the final savings was not quite as much. 

"We did get a savings from the temporary layoffs and we didn't do anything that hurt any of our employees," he said. "That was the main thing I think our supervisors had in mind." 

Wilson said the county's revenue from sales tax and clerk fees were down sharply during the shutdown and the county's third quarter budget has been cut by about $4 million. He said in addition to the furloughs, the county has cut department budgets, delayed equipment purchases and trimmed or eliminated some contracts with outside vendors.

The cuts, a healthy fund balance and a surplus about $3 million from 2019 budget have Schoharie in good shape to weather another economic slowdown this year, but Wilson said he is concerned about 2021's budget, especially if the virus returns and forces another shutdown.

"This group is a conservative lot," he said. "We generally are in good financial shape."

However, as with other municipalities in New York, Schoharie is waiting to see how much state funding is slashed. The second part of the state budget, originally due in May, has been on hold as state officials wait to see if the next federal coronavirus package includes municipal funding.

Wilson said the county has models projecting losses of state aid of 10%, 15% and 20%.

"We don't know how much it will be, but we are tracking it very closely," he said. "We're definitely trying to manage our way to avoid a catastrophic crisis."  

Schoharie gets much less of its revenue from sales tax than most counties in the state, according to figures from the New York State Association of Counties. The state average is 27%, but Schoharie gets only 16% of its revenue from sales tax. However, the county gets 24% of its revenue from federal aid, much higher than the state average of 9%. It also gets 22% of its revenue from property taxes. 

By comparison, neighbor Otsego County gets 37% of its revenues from state aid, 10% from property taxes and 8% from federal aid. 

"Normally I am envious of Otsego's sales taxes," Wilson said. "Right now I think Otsego is screwed because they rely so much on sales tax and tourism. But Otsego has an economy to bounce back to, when the Hall of Fame and baseball get going again. We don't have that to come back to, so we have to be all the more careful going forward."

Wilson said his and the board's priority is to not use too much of the county's fund balance this year, so there are plenty of reserves if the economic downturn continues in 2021.

The state is also allowing Schoharie to convert some of its capital debt into service bonds. That move, if the board adopts it, would save Schoharie money in the short term, Wilson said, but add up to $2 million in long-term debt services. 

"For us, I think the real key is going to be what happens in 2021," he said. 


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