GOSHEN – Orange County officials say they so far have cut almost $400,000 from the giant budget deficit they face by enticing employees to take furloughs and collect unemployment instead of their salaries for either one or two months.
As of Monday, the county had approved 69 of 77 temporary layoff applications that employees submitted after that cost-cutting policy was introduced last month. The bulk of those requests – 47 – were from county workers who agreed to be furloughed for both June and July. The rest were for just one of those months.
The county estimates it will save $389,391 by shifting those workers from its payroll to the unemployment rolls – a total that will grow if more workers volunteer for July furloughs before the June 15 deadline to make those requests. Officials so far have approved 13 requests to be laid off for July only.
The county government – one of the largest employers in Orange County with roughly 2,400 workers – offered its workforce both furloughs and buyouts in May to try to narrow a budget shortfall initially projected to reach $50 million. Like other counties and the state government, Orange County faces steep losses in expected income from sales and other revenue sources because of the shutdown of businesses in March to slow the coronavirus spread.
What made furloughs palatable was the boosted unemployment benefits that workers could collect while temporarily laid off. Through the end of July, any unemployed U.S. worker can get a federally funded $600 added to their state benefits each week as part of a $2.2 trillion economic relief package Congress passed in March.
Orange County’s buyouts consist of offering payments of $10,000 to $15,000 to workers with at least 10 years of service if they leave the payroll by June 30. As of Monday, 22 employees had applied for buyouts before the June 12 deadline.
County officials expect to get a clearer understanding of the looming deficit this month after getting their latest sales-tax payments from the state and collecting hotel taxes for the second quarter of the year.
“We’re on the brink of knowing how bad it’s going to be, but not quite there yet,” Finanace Commissioner Karin Hablow told county lawmakers during a committee meeting last week.