Pat and Milan Sharik had been working for Nassau County since the mid-1970s. The two met in 1978 while working in the Office of Employment and Training; they married two years later in 1980. They lived in Baldwin after they married, but in 1998 the couple moved to the house where Milan grew up in Wantagh.
Rather than taking the chance of getting laid-off, both Pat and Milan accepted the $1,000-paid-per-year-of-service retirement incentive. Pat retired as a clerk in the Probation Department, where she had been responsible for billing and documenting restitution payments made to the county. Milan retired from the Department of Information Technology; his title was “laborer.”
Since their retirement, the Shariks have been frequent visitors to Piccolo, their favorite Italian restaurant in Bellmore. They have also had time to remodel their kitchen and pursue their hobby of driving classic cars. Although both say they were not yet ready to retire, in the end they are relieved to be out of what they describe as an increasingly stressful work environment.
“I’m glad to be out of there,” says Pat.
It was not just the clerical and support staffs that were hit. David Stonehill was a real property tax specialist in Nassau’s Department of Assessment, responsible for representing the county against property tax appeals in Small Claims Assessment Review. Stonehill’s job consisted of brokering agreements with residents who were unhappy with their property tax assessment before it turned into a more costly court battle.
Although one does not necessarily need a law degree to hold this position, Stonehill graduated from George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C. He has lived in Merrick for the last 20 years with his wife and daughter. Before he started working for the county about five years ago, Stonehill had a private law practice specializing in real estate.
Stonehill was laid-off in July 2011, in what he called the “first wave,” along with more than 120 other Nassau employees, including more than half of the roughly 40 people with his title.
“It’s devastating psychologically because you’re used to being identified with county government and when that’s taken away from you, even though it’s no fault of your own, it hurts,” he says. “That’s just the psychological aspect; obviously the economic one is self evident.”
Stonehill was a part of a department that oversaw what County Executive Mangano has called a “broken property tax assessment system that left Nassau County in a fiscal mess.”
The CSEA 830 has a pending class action lawsuit against the county because they believe Nassau violated its collective bargaining agreement by laying-off members of the assessment department and subsequently outsourcing the work to private firms. If the union wins the suit, they believe former workers from the assessment department could be rehired.
As for Vignali, since she never technically retired, she still could get rehired by the county, although both Commissioner Imhof and County Executive Mangano declined to comment on the likelihood of that possibility. Of the 260 who lost their jobs in December, Nassau rehired 40 employees from the Department of Social Services in January.
At least for the foreseeable future, Long Islanders will have to get used to smaller local government and a reduction in the services county governments provide. For those former workers who were or will be laid-off, that means moving from homes, searching for new jobs and trying to reestablish a hard-earned sense of self.
“I wanted to knock on [Mangano’s] door and say, ‘Look what you did to me,’” says Vignali. “He didn’t even care; he didn’t know who he was letting go, they just did it to save money. I didn’t even make that much money.”
— With additional reporting by Spencer Rumsey.