Our View: County took wrong approach

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Editorial Board, February 2009 through May 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Paul Hughes, community representative
  • Gail Smith, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— Routt County government employees and taxpayers deserved more of a chance to discuss cost-cutting measures with department leaders and the commissioners before employee pay was slashed by 10 percent last week. Instead, our elected commissioners made the decision in a special meeting called exactly 24 hours - the minimum legal requirement - before the unanimous vote was cast.

It was the wrong approach. Commissioners Nancy Stahoviak, Doug Monger and Diane Mitsch Bush first should have consulted with all county employees before making a decision of this magnitude. Their failure to do so has resulted in morale and trust issues with employees, as was made clear during Wednesday's special meeting, when many staffers turned out to voice their displeasure with the commissioners.

Routt County Communications employee Erik Foster told the commissioners he was frustrated particularly with the "lack of notice."

We couldn't agree more.

The county's fiscal issues have been fairly clear for the past couple months. Back in early February, for example, the commissioners instituted a hiring freeze. On March 27, the commissioners met with county department heads to discuss potential budget-saving moves, including layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts and operational cuts. That meeting ended with no clear direction about how to proceed. Two business days later, the commissioners posted a notice for Wednesday's special meeting, including a draft of a resolution "implementing a 10 percent reduction in wages for all county employees except for county elected officials."

The commissioners' Monday and Tuesday meeting agendas indicated no planned discussion of cost-cutting measures, so we were left to scratch our heads and wonder when and where this decision was made and the ordinance drafted.

On Wednesday, the commissioners stressed the time-sensitive nature of the decision, pointing out that delaying a decision would reduce the anticipated savings from the pay cuts by nearly $62,000 every two-week pay period.

Cutting pay Wednesday meant the savings would be realized by the April 15 payday. That's no small chunk of change, but it's a fraction of the overall deficit and significantly less than the $411,000 the county is over budget for the courthouse remodel.

The commissioners first should have called a meeting with all county employees to address the fiscal situation and solicit ideas for cutting costs. The city of Steamboat Springs recently took a similar approach and wound up with a furlough plan that, although certainly not ideal for all city employees, was made with their input.

One of the results was the move to a four-day week at City Hall, a compromise embraced by employees and workable for constituents.

County employees certainly had ideas with merit, and some of them were suggested during Wednesday's meeting. The commissioners promised to evaluate some of those plans in the coming weeks.

That open-minded approach should have been embraced earlier. County employees and taxpayers expect their elected leaders to make difficult decisions, but we also expect those decisions to be made in open and with better notice.

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