Steamboat Springs Layoffs now appear inevitable for some Routt County government workers. County employees can expect to have a clearer picture of their job security by the middle of next month.
On Monday, the Routt County Board of Commissioners acknowledged that it will be difficult to achieve needed budget cuts without a reduction in work force.
"Sixty-five percent of our budget is personnel. We would be unrealistic to think we'll be able to reduce operational budgets to meet what we need to be at by the time we need to do our 2010 budget" without a reduction in work force, Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.
The county has about 285 full-time-equivalent positions. According to previous estimates, the elimination of 19 positions would reduce county personnel expenses by a minimum of $695,400.
The commissioners will alert county employees this week that they can expect their department heads to have a set of criteria by May 15 that would be used to make decisions about which positions to eliminate.
"Employees are pretty well going to know when they see the criteria, what positions are going to be affected," Stahoviak said.
Whatever happens, the commissioners do no expect to eliminate any jobs before June 30.
The preparation for layoffs comes as the commissioners continue seeking ways to mitigate a $4.9 million budget shortfall this year and prepare to balance the 2010 budget in an era of uncertainty.
Commission Chairman Doug Monger said his panel is unable to foresee when an economic recovery might bring relief to the county budget.
"It could be one year out or it could be two or three years," Monger said.
The commissioners are expected to meet with department heads at 4 p.m. today to go over proposals for furlough plans suggested in lieu of a 10 percent pay reduction invoked by the commissioners April 1. And County Manager Tom Sullivan is in the midst of revisiting department budgets in search of more cuts to be made from this year's operating budget.
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush was emphatic that she wants to exhaust the potential for trimming operational budgets before entertaining layoffs.
"We need to continue to cut the operating budget so that, with regard to layoffs, when we look at those cuts plus the 10 percent reduced payroll we can say, 'OK, so what do we still need to cut?'" Mitsch Bush said.
She added that she is sensitive to the morale issue connected to employees having to wait longer to know more about coming layoffs.
"I understand that people don't like uncertainty," Mitsch Bush said. "But who wants certainty with a poorly done process?"
For now, Sullivan will continue to go over operating budgets with department heads for two to three weeks longer while working on the layoff criteria. He is to give departments heads the written criteria by May 15 so that they can be shared with employees.
Then, Sullivan is to submit the latest round of cuts from operating budgets to the commissioners in time for them to make decisions by May 31.
Monger said he expects the department heads to offer up meaningful cuts that balance the need to provide vital services to county residents.
"If we need to put the finger on them, we'll put the finger on them," Monger said. "If they don't understand the severity of the problem by now, we need to do a little more convincing."
He promised that because cuts in operating budgets translate into reduced services, the commissioners will be very hands on with the cuts.
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