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Onondaga County Legislature approves layoffs measure

Tom Magnarelli
Onondaga County Legislature Chairman David Knapp

In a narrow vote Tuesday, the Onondaga County Legislature gave County Executive Ryan McMahon's administration the authority to layoff as many as 250 positions, a move meant to help Onondaga County deal with the $80-100 million revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic.

County Legislature Chairman Dave Knapp said while no one is happy about this outcome, the decision to give the county executive's office flexibility in how many jobs are cut could result in fewer positions lost should financial conditions change. The alternative, he said, is having the legislature vote on job cuts all at once.

"This was the best option - we give him the flexibility to react as we go to how our sales tax is coming in, if we get help from the federal government, if the state doesn't hit us as much as we are afraid they're going to," Knapp said. "That's all good news and we can back off on the layoffs or the furloughs. So, this keeps all the doors open."

The legislation, which passed 9-7 largely along party lines, does include the word furlough, which Knapp said is meant to encourage the County Executive's office to find a way to reach a deal with local unions on reducing hours rather than positions. 

"Get back together with the unions to see if that's a better, easier solution than layoffs by themselves, so we hope that will happen," He said. "It's probably going to be a combination of the two, which is fine too, but I really do think we're saving county jobs by doing it this way."

Democratic Legislator Mary Kuhn said she's not happy that this legislation allows the chief fiscal officer in the County Department of Finance determine how many jobs should be cut.

"We have been asked to surrender our responsibility to an unelected person," Kuhn said. 

Credit Payne Horning / WRVO News
Tammy Honeywell with CSEA Onondaga Local 834 urged the Onondaga County Legislature not to approve a resolution allowing as many as 250 county positions to be cut, saying the impact of the loss of any more 'rank-and-file' employees will be severe for individuals and the county residents who rely on the public services these employees provide.

Kuhn expressed a frustration with what she calls a lack of transparency from county leaders on measures taken to reduce the budget this year, including negotiations with local unions. She thinks that those should continue with an emphasis on achieving a deal for furloughs.

Tammy Honeywell, executive vice president of CSEA Onondaga Local 834, a union which represents more than 3,500 public service members in Onondaga County, said they have sent a proposal on furloughs to McMahon's office. In comments before the County Legislature Tuesday, she said these cuts come at the worst possible time for the public and individual families. 

"Syracuse is the ninth-highest city in the United States for concentrated poverty. Ryan [McMahon] himself is focusing on poverty as one of his initiatives and yet now we are talking about layoffs - one that will not just affect the county employees that will lose their jobs, but the community that will feel these effects as well unless the cuts come from the top," Honeywell said. "Emergency management, the health department during a pandemic, etc. - how will our community survive cuts when we are already working with a skeleton crew?"

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.