As reported by, talk of fiscal belt-tightening has become common over the last year in the halls of Union County government. Now, with an executive budget set to be unveiled Thursday, the real scope of Union County’s money troubles is coming into focus: Officials say they must close a $36 million deficit, and nearly 300 layoffs could be part of the tab. They attribute the large deficit to a significant decrease in state reimbursements, coupled with rising operating costs.

As part of the proposal, some 280 employees will be laid off unless the county receives an infusion of state funding and reaches last-minute accords with labor unions, all of which have been asked to voluntarily agree to annual salary cuts equal to three days’ pay. Layoff plans have already been filed with the state, and as many as 44 positions will be eliminated May 1, with the remainder on June 1. It’s the first time in three years the county has eliminated workers’ jobs and the largest layoff plan in at least 13 years.

Prior to the announcement, three unions, Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 73, County Police Rank and File, PBA Local 73A, County Police Superior Officers, and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68, had agreed to the three-day reduction in salary. Freeholders, the county manager and department heads will also take the pay cut.

Several unions are still discussing the give-back with county management, including the leaders of PBA Local 199, which represents the jail’s rank-and-file officers. They’ll ask their membership to vote on the pay cut this week. The county hasn’t said how many positions may be eliminated at the jail, said Ken Burkert, a delegate for the union.

Even if every union agreed to the salary cuts, the savings would not preserve all the jobs slated for elimination, said Human Services director Frank Guzzo. He said it would net about $1.8 million, enough to save 40 jobs. Between layoffs, the elimination of 72 unfilled positions and the termination of several events and programs, the county expects to save about $10 million. The additional $26 million in cuts will come from broad and sweeping expenditure reductions and a tax increase, officials said, though it’s too soon to say how big the hike will be.