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Pay freeze on the table in Essex County

Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas said Monday that he doesn't foresee the county board freezing the contractually guaranteed pay increases for its unionized employees in the near future.

But he also noted that the controversial move could be on the table in the coming months.

Last week, the Sullivan County Legislature voted to freeze the pay of its union employees, even though they are under a contract that guarantees 4 percent raises.

Douglas and County Manager Dan Palmer have repeatedly tried to get the county Civil Service Employees Association back to the negotiating table without success.

Douglas said he has no plans of immediately following in Sullivan County's footsteps.

"I can't foresee me doing that in the immediate future," he said. "But it is a possibility. Everything is a possibility. We're talking $700,000 in raises this year."

The 4 percent union pay hikes will cost Essex County $700,000 in each of the next two years.

Lawsuits are expected in the counties that do decide to freeze pay in the face of existing contracts.

"I would say we leave all options open," he said. "I would hope that the union would come back to us and negotiate in good faith. Look, everybody else is freezing - management, the board of supervisors - and that they would consider the same thing."

On the campaign trail, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo called for legislative action to legalize pay freezes for the state's 200,000 employees.

Cuomo's primary talking point has been a 4 percent cap on property tax increases for governments statewide. The proposal has raised criticism from local governments that argue the plan is only workable if the state also pulls back on programs counties are mandated to provide.

County officials argue that mandated programs regularly comprise up to 90 percent of the local tax levy and leave little wiggle room for cost cutting measures.

In response, officials said Cuomo's staff is considering pushing legislation to legalize pay freezes for all unionized taxpayer-funded employees, including teachers and civil service employees.

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