By Ray King
Jefferson County Judge Gerald Robinson on Thursday asked elected officials and department heads to furlough 30 percent of their employees as the county struggles with a loss of revenue due to the Corona virus.
During a virtual meeting with elected officials, Robinson said he has already told 30 percent of his staff they were being furloughed.
“I believe the number should be higher, but I am going to take my chances,” Robinson said. “I believe 30 percent will get us through but if not, we can look at other things.”
He said the state was predicting a 26.5 percent shortfall in revenue with those funds impacting a number of areas, including schools, roads and others.
“This is one of the hardest things I will probably have to do,” he said. “I feel with what we do we have made the necessary steps to get us through this. A lot of us were relying on revenue from the casino but even if it were to open in June, the revenue will not be seen until September of October and that still puts us in the hole.”
Robinson explained that the furloughs were not a layoff and those laid-of could collect unemployment benefits, including an extra $600 weekly as a part of the federal CARES Act which will continue until June 1.
He said that some employees would actually make more money by drawing the unemployment and federal subsidy than they would if they were working full time.
“We have dedicated employees who go above and beyond, but we have to face the loss of revenue at one time or the other,” Robinson said. “If we lose that revenue, we may have to lay off people and we may not be able to call them back.”
According to a memo Robinson sent to elected officials and department heads, the elected officials would be the ones to select who is to be furloughed and seniority would not be a factor.
“They are not fired,” Robinson said. “They’re still coming back. This will allow the county to recoup the salaries while still benefiting the employees.” He went on to say that Governor Asa Hutchinson has waived the former two-week waiting period so employees who were furloughed would be eligible for benefits immediately.
Sheriff Lafayette Woods Jr., said the $600 Robinson was talking about, while a part of the federal legislation, is still the responsibility of the employer to pay and also said consideration should be given to departments who bring in revenue verses departments who don’t.
Pam Jenkins, who is Chief of Staff for Robinson said that while the county would initially have to pay the entire $600 provided in the legislation, the federal government will reimburse the county for 50 percent of that.
Regarding Woods statement about considering some departments over others, Robinson said he was looking at the totality of the budget.
“All the departments are important to me,” Robinson said.
Sixth Division Circuit Judge Earnest E. Brown Jr., said that at other meetings with department heads and elected officials, a plan of action or consensus was always reached beforehand while the subject of furloughs was not discussed. He said his first knowledge of the subject was when he received a memo which did not say how the process was to be done.
Brown also asked about the option of a shared work program where employees work hours are reduced while they remain on the payroll.
“What I do in my office may not be what you want to do in your office,” Robinson said to Brown.
The Jefferson County Quorum Court will meet Tuesday and the matter may be dis