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Mayor Warren announces layoffs, furloughs for city workers 

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren on Tuesday announced dramatic personnel reductions — from job shares to furloughs and layoffs — that administration officials said will affect about 12 percent of the city’s workforce.

In all, 17 positions will be eliminated, 178 workers will be furloughed, and another 208 employees are to participate in a job sharing program in which they will essentially be relegated to part-time status, splitting split duties in jobs that are currently handled by a single person.

Of the 403 workers affected, 213 are in the library system. The mayor said the cuts will take effect Wednesday, May 6.

“This is a difficult day for the city of Rochester,” Warren said in a video news conference. “We are acting now to protect essential services in the city of Rochester.”

The move was not entirely unexpected. The mayor's spokesperson, Justin Roj, had hinted recently that staffing cuts were coming.

Officials estimated the proposed cuts would save the city $2.1 million. The city’s operating budget is currently about $552 million.

The city’s fiscal year ends June 30, and the mayor is scheduled to release her proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year on May 15 with details on the prospective loss of sales tax revenue and state aid murky at best.

Rochester is one of some 2,100 American cities anticipating major budget shortfalls this year and scrambling to adjust, but cutting staff and programs, according to a recent survey conducted jointly by the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

In a separate report, the NLC estimated recently that between 300,000 and 1 million public-sector workers could soon be laid off or furloughed.

“The one thing we can’t do is print money. We have to work within the means that we have,” Warren said. “The means that we have is that three-legged stool — property taxes, sales taxes, and revenue we receive from the state.”

Rochester joins dozens of other municipalities across the country that are reducing their workforces in the face of an urgent financial crisis compounded by a dearth of federal and state aid.

The director of the city’s Office of Management and Budget, Chris Wagner, who joined the mayor in the news conference, said that in the early hours of the pandemic the city cut about $14 million in discretionary spending and has since been working to secure more state aid. It was unclear Tuesday whether the cuts would be enough to avoid a budgetary shortfall.

“These are the strategies we have in place to do as much as we can to be flexible during a dynamic situation,” Wagner said. 
All of the workers to be furloughed and to be reassigned to job-sharing will keep their healthcare benefits, the mayor said. Employees whose positions were eliminated will keep their benefits for nine months following termination.

Officials anticipated that furloughed and job-sharing employees will return to full-time status after July 29, when enhanced benefits to workers are set to expire under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Of the cuts, 25 were in the mayor’s office, including four layoffs. Warren said the cuts were partially to ensure funding for essential services, like police officers, firefighters, and sanitation workers, remained untouched.

“I can assure you, that will be the last thing we look at when it comes down to making sure our citizens and our employees are taken care of,” Warren said, adding that her administration worked with representatives of the city's unions to implement the staffing reductions.

Fourteen percent of workers affected were union personnel. 

Bill Slocum, president of AFSCME Local 1635, which represents more than 1,100 city workers, confirmed that he had worked closely with the city to alleviate the burden of the cuts.

“Hopefully, we get by this with not much harm,” Slocum said. “But, we certainly need funding from the state.”

Warren could not say for certain whether the first round of cuts would be the last, and Slocum said he worries that if the federal and state government don’t provide lasting relief, the worst is yet to come

“We sure could use it, because without it, the city is going to fail," Slocum said.

The staff reductions come on the heels of Monroe County announcing hazard pay raises for county workers deemed to be at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus or required to work extra hours because of the pandemic.

Those wage increases were paid for by a $129 million federal grant from the CARES Act. 

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at
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