Steamboat Springs Routt County government employees will cash their first short paychecks today. However, most of them will have the comfort of knowing that within six weeks, their 10 percent reduction in pay will be offset by a corresponding reduction in their workweek.
The Board of County Commissioners accepted the recommendation of County Manager Tom Sullivan on Tuesday afternoon and reached consensus to move toward a furlough system. The decision came almost two weeks after the commissioners adopted a 10 percent pay cut for all county employees except elected officials.
Commission Chairman Doug Monger reluctantly agreed with Tuesday's decision.
"I don't believe this is the right thing to do, but I will support moving forward," Monger said. "My displeasure is due to the fact that no matter how you look at it, it isn't equitable. It isn't equitable to department heads and (employees who are already exempt from overtime). I think it's critical that we have an end date, because furloughs aren't sustainable."
Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said the furloughs are equitable to the degree that they allowed employees and their managers to discuss their preferences in how their workweeks might be reduced by 10 percent.
The commissioners voted April 1 to impose a 10 percent reduction in pay for county employees as part of an effort to reduce a projected $4.9 million budget shortfall. They told their employees that day that they would be required to accept a pay reduction while working the same number of hours. However, the commissioners also directed Sullivan on April 1 to form a committee to consider the options for furloughs. Each department head submitted a variety of ways of accomplishing most of their work while reducing employees hours by the equivalent of 10 percent.
The reduction in hours commensurate with the reduction in pay wasn't the only thing on county employees' minds Tuesday.
Longtime employee Bob McKune told the commissioners that many people were worried that if they worked reduced hours, they would not accrue vacation time and sick days at the same rate.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she was open to finding a way to reduce hours without reducing vacation benefits.
"We could make the decision to let it accrue" at the same rate, Stahoviak said. "I'm willing to look at a way we can hold our employees harmless on vacation and sick leave."
Her remarks were greeted with loud applause.
The commissioners' decision to allows furloughs won't be official until they pass a formal resolution. And when they do, it's clear that it won't be a one-size-fits-all furlough for the county.
From Routt County Jail to Human Resources to the Road and Bridge Department, there are many variations on how employees' workweeks might be reduced by 10 percent.
Sgt. Miles De Young, representing the patrol division of the Sheriff's Office, proposed that patrol deputies would work three 10-hour shifts using Wednesdays as an overlap day and work six hours on Wednesday.
Monger asked Sheriff Gary Wall whether he was contemplating eliminating 24-hour patrol coverage of the county to meet the reduction in hours. The sheriff said he wasn't.
"Absolutely not," Wall said. "That's a safety issue for the county. I feel very strongly about that."
At the county Department of Information Systems, Terry Barber is proposing that all of his employees work four nine-hour days and take one day off during the week. However, they will schedule their shifts in order to cover Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Sullivan told the commissioners that each department head will be responsible for ensuring that all of their employees work the required hours.
"It gets down to the level of delegating authority to the department heads," Sullivan said. "But the other thing I want is some measure of how the work is getting done and the means to track levels of service" to county residents.
Monger said the success of a furlough system will depend upon the employees holding up their end of the bargain.
"There's going to be a huge amount of responsibility on the part of employees not to abuse the system," Monger said.
There are several departments within county government where the commissioners acknowledge that implementing furloughs will be complicated, including the Building Department, a self-funding enterprise fund that also serves the city of Steamboat Springs. Yampa Valley Regional Airport and the Road and Bridge Department, because their volume of work increases dramatically in the winter, are two others.
Tuesday's news of a pending furlough system won't be received as joyously by employees who are exempt from receiving overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition to elected officials and department heads, those employees include some in the Assessor's Office, Human Services department and accounting.
Sullivan said he likely will need at least a month to refine the furlough proposals of each department and write accountability guidelines before the new plan can be implemented in sync with county paydays on the 15th and 30th of each month.