Our View: Commissioners make right move

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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.

Kudos to the Routt County Board of Commissioners for its preliminary acceptance of a plan Tuesday to institute a furlough system for county employees. Although the plan is not a long-term solution to the county's fiscal woes, it represents a collaborative, inclusive approach to budget cuts that seemed to be missing when the commissioners adopted a 10 percent pay cut for all county employees April 1.

Almost two weeks after that controversial decision, the commissioners met Tuesday with county employees and department heads to hear proposals for a furlough system. Department heads presented plans they said could accomplish most of the current workload while also reducing employee hours by 10 percent - or about four hours a week for most full-time employees.

Importantly, the furlough plans will differ by department, as they should. And each plan should focus first and foremost on how that department can minimize the impact of reduced hours on residents who rely on the services it provides. Some departments, including Road and Bridge and the Routt County Regional Building Department, face challenges specific to the nature of their work and the fluctuation of workload during various times of the year.

County Manager Tom Sullivan, tasked with working with individual department heads to solidify furlough plans and also creating a means by which to measure service levels while the furloughs are in place, certainly has his work cut out for him. He and county residents will put a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of department heads.

Not to be overlooked is the potential impact Tuesday's decision will have on employee morale. There is no question morale was affected by the April 1 decision, which came without much advanced notice or direct input from employees. The commissioners' willingness to reconsider that decision and adopt an approach preferred by department heads and staff members should be applauded.

The furloughs won't save the county any more money than what the pay cuts were saving - about $1.05 million in 2009 - which means there's still lots of work to do before the county trims a total of $4.9 million from this year's budget.

Commissioner Doug Monger, who reluctantly agreed to the furloughs, correctly pointed out that furloughs aren't sustainable and that employees must hold up their end of the bargain. More cuts will need to be made, and layoffs remain one of the most likely means of accomplishing significant cost savings.

The furlough system can't last forever, nor should it. But it can be an effective stopgap measure while county officials work to identify additional areas of significant cost savings. Let's get on with the work.

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