With loss of revenue, tri-county lawmakers face tough choices, but job cuts are low on list

Counties eye tight budgets due to loss revenue

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Counties across the state are trying to right the financial ship while navigating a global pandemic.

Officials in Jefferson County say COVID-19 has hit the county in the wallet, and while the legislature has tough choices to make, cutting jobs is low on the list.

“You try to make it as a last resort, going in and making actual cuts, going in and terminating people, laying off people, because it just jerks your organization around. Then, when you get flush with money, all of the sudden you’re bringing those people back. So, you’re back and forth, back and forth, said Scott Gray, chair of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators.

He says the COVID-19 pandemic has hamstrung the county’s main sources of revenue, which includes state aid, sales tax, and departmental revenue.

Gray says balancing the books won’t be an easy process.

“It was a rapid decline and it will be a slow and steady path out of this situation. It will take more than just a year, he said.

And, while Gray says job cuts are a last resort, the county’s legislature still has tough choices to make up for lost money.

“They’re going to be faced with cuts in services, increased taxes, or funding different programs that traditionally have been funded and maybe reducing that funding,” he said.

Lewis County officials say they’re building next year’s budget with a wait and see mindset. But, they don’t expect big job cuts on the horizon.

“If we had to go down that road, it would be something that we’ve never done before and I don’t think we will. I think that what we will do this year is we will probably play a waiting game. So, we’ll put forth a reasonable, conservative budget and we’ll see what happens with the federal government, we’ll see what happens with the state government, and we’ll react,” said Lewis County Manager Ryan Piche.

Piche says they’re expecting to be missing a chunk of state aid come next year.

“We are planning in our 2021 budget for 20 percent across the board cuts from the state of New York. So, we’re just planning on not receiving the revenue,” he said.

And Piche says counties statewide could use some federal support.

“There’s the HEROES Act and the HEALS Act, both of which provide direct aid to local governments, but neither of which have been passed by the full House, the full Senate, and signed by the president. So, if either of those bills were to get some traction and go forward, that would be great news for New York state budgets across the state,” he said.

The push to avoid job cuts is in stark contrast to what’s being reported in the Syracuse area, where Onondaga County officials are looking to make potentially 250 layoffs.

As for St. Lawrence County, we’ve reached out to the Board of Legislators there and are waiting for a response.

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