Routt County looks at pay cuts

10 percent reduction considered today

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— Citing declining revenues, "the international economic crisis" and grim financial projections, Routt County commissioners will consider emergency 10 percent pay cuts at a special meeting today.

Routt County Finance Director Dan Strnad said the move - which would apply to all county employees except elected officials - is expected to save $1.05 million this year, or about 20 percent of the county's projected 2009 deficit of $4.9 million.

County employees previously were told in a March 12 e-mail from County Manager Tom Sullivan that budget balancing measures such as pay cuts, operational budget reductions, layoffs and furloughs would not be implemented until later this year.

"I can safely say that no cuts will be made prior to the end of May," Sullivan wrote.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday to county employees, Sullivan apologized for the short notice regarding the consideration of pay cuts today and said it indicates the severity of the county's fiscal situation. If approved today, the pay cut would be reflected in county employees' April 15 paychecks. If the commissioners were to wait until their regularly scheduled hearings Monday and Tuesday next week, the pay cuts would be delayed by one two-week pay period, reducing the anticipated savings by $61,808.

"As difficult as the decision to reduce pay is for the (commissioners) and I, further delay to take action would continue to erode the financial position of Routt County," Sullivan wrote in Tuesday's e-mail. "It is time to implement a pay reduction."

The emergency hearing is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Elected officials including the commissioners, sheriff, clerk and recorder, and assessor will not be affected because their salaries are set by the state Legislature and cannot be changed during their term of office. At their discretion, however, elected officials may donate a portion of their salary back to the county. Or, to take advantage of tax deductions, elected officials could donate a portion of their salary to community service agencies funded by the county. The county would then reduce its 2009 contribution to agencies by the same amount.

No furloughs

Unlike the city of Steamboat Springs, which recently coupled 10 percent pay reductions with a proportional reduction in employees' hours, furloughs are not a component of the county plan, commissioners said. Furloughs could be added later, but Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said she "rather doubts it" because of the difficulty of equitably applying furloughs across county departments such as those that operate around the clock.

"It became very difficult to talk about a one-size-fits-all possibility," she said.

County Commissioner Doug Monger said there was consensus among all three commissioners to schedule today's special meeting to consider a resolution to reduce pay. Monger said the decision was an outcome of the commissioners' daylong retreat with the county management team Friday and was identified as something that could be quickly implemented.

"This isn't the end of what we're doing," Monger said. "This is something we can do right now. : This is something that we could see an immediate benefit from."

Other options still on the table for future consideration include eliminating some of the county's about 285 full-time-equivalent positions. According to a document used during Friday's retreat, the elimination of 19 positions would reduce county personnel expenses by a minimum of $695,400.

"The commissioners think that that process is going to take longer to do it scientifically and do it right," Monger said.

Revenues plummet

Despite budgeting for a 21 percent decrease in revenue in its 2009 adopted budget, projections show the county still faces a $2.2 million shortfall when January and February revenues are projected during the course of the year and compared to the 2009 budget. Combined with its planned use of $2.7 million from reserves, the total 2009 deficit now is projected to be $4.9 million.

Mitsch Bush addressed the confusion that results for some county residents who see county revenues nose-diving while their property tax bills are increasing substantially.

Of the $55.4 million the county will collect in property taxes this year, only about 27 percent, or $15 million, goes to county government. Schools receive 48 percent of property tax collected in Routt County, and the rest goes to special districts, towns, libraries and Colorado Mountain College. Also, although many of the county's mill levies have been exempted from a state law limiting revenue growth, the county's general fund mill levy has not.

In the county's 2009 adopted budget, property tax revenue is projected to account for 32 percent of revenues. Although this sizable chunk of income is stable, declines in other revenue streams such as sales tax and fees have been substantial.

"Our fees are going down like crazy," Mitsch Bush said. "Fees in every area are going down."

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