OSWEGO — The Oswego County Legislature during a virtual meeting on Thursday unanimously approved a hiring and purchasing freeze in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hiring freeze will last through the end of the calendar year, while the purchasing freeze is effective until July 9, according to county documents. Both measures designed to help close a potential budget gap, which the county’s budget officer estimates will have a minimum impact of $11 million.
Under the terms the orders, departments are directed to cease all hiring immediately, except for positions that are federally or state mandated, meant for pandemic response, ensure public safety, department heads or deputy department heads, vacancies previously approved or vacancies approved by the chairman of the legislature.
Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, R-Hannibal, said both Republicans and Democrats are working together to try and find ways to cut costs to make up for coronavirus-related shortfalls.
“Some of these resolutions today are … to start the process of slowing up the spending and figuring out exactly where we are with these uncertain times,” Wilbur said.
Before passing the hiring freeze, Marie Schadt, D-Minetto, asked if there were any immediate efforts to decrease legislator or department heads wages.
“We are in the most possibly difficult time in our lives we’ll ever see. I’d like to know if we have plans going forward to have reductions beyond this,” Schadt said.
“Everything is on the table,” Chairman James Weatherup, R-Central Square, responded. “We’re looking at a great number of things, but nothing has necessarily been decided.”
With the purchasing freeze, “all departments must cease all purchases of discretionary service items, including new publications and memberships, supplies, travel, equipment and contractual services not necessary to protect the health, safety and security of employees and citizens.” County officials said they placed a premium on the continuation of high priority operations and services such as mandated functions, court-orders, law enforcement, solid waste management, and public works.
“We will still continue to purchase the things we need for daily business and to keep things going in the proper way through the county,” Legislator John Martino, R-Hastings, said.
Earlier in the meeting, Schadt and Minority Leader Thomas Drumm voted against resolutions that authorized the salary for the director of employment and training as well as the director of social services at the Department of Social Services.
Schadt urged the legislature to use caution, saying that a 60-day wait wasn’t a long time.
“I believe in the position that we now sit, which is a great unknown, I feel that we should follow the direction of Syracuse University and SUNY Oswego and freeze everything for at least 60 days across the board — make no decisions regarding moving anyone up, down, anything. Just freeze for the moment,” Schadt said. “I feel that’s reasonable.”
Legislator Roy Reehil, R-Constantia, said not filling the positions would cause problems in the department. Both resolutions regarding the Department of Social Services passed 23-2 with Drumm and Schadt as the dissenting votes.
“These are important positions as we try to get back to work in the county, to help our employers get folks into their jobs,” Reehil said.
The legislature unanimously passed another resolution abolishing 19 part-time court attendant positions. The positions were previously funded by the state, but the county was recently informed reimbursements would not continue.
“Moving forward, we will wait for the Unified Court System to tell us if the funding is reimbursed or if they have started the reimbursement to us again. Then we could consider bringing these back,” Wilbur said. “These are fully-funded positions. With the funds not coming, we have no choice in this time period but to abolish the positions.”
For complete meeting minutes or to watch the video of the meeting, go to oswegocounty.com.