Sheriff's reaction to furloughs
Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall talks about his reaction to a furlough plan adopted for county employees.
Routt County Elections Deputy Kim Bonner discusses her reaction to a furlough plan adopted for county employees.
Steamboat Springs The Routt County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a furlough plan for county employees Tuesday, with provisions aimed at protecting the county against Sheriff Gary Wall's attempts to prevent pay cuts in his department.
The furlough plan was developed to give county employees time off work to match a 10 percent, countywide pay cut adopted by the commissioners April 1. The pay cut is intended to help reduce an expected $4.9 million shortfall in the county's budget. Sheriff's Office employees, however, will not be eligible for the proportional decrease in hours because Wall has challenged the commissioners' authority to unilaterally reduce the salaries of employees of elected officials without mutual agreement.
The furlough plan adopted Tuesday states, "No employee employed in a county department headed by an elected official where the elected official has not accepted the pay reduction for their department : by a written acceptance : by April 30, 2009, shall be eligible for this furlough plan regardless of whether such employee's wages or salary has been reduced."
Although Sheriff's Office employees' pay has been reduced despite Wall's objections, County Attorney John Merrill said it is necessary to preclude them from the furlough plan in case Wall pursues legal action against the county and a judge ultimately rules in his favor, so that Sheriff's Office employees don't end up receiving full pay as well as time off.
Wall said he has yet to decide whether to pursue formal legal action against the commissioners.
The commissioners softened a related provision of the resolution asserting their authority to reduce or eliminate county employee benefits if they choose. An earlier draft of the resolution included a provision stating that if any Routt County elected official refuses to accept the pay cut, "the board reserves the right to exclude the employees working in that elected official's department from employment benefits : including : retirement plan coverage and medical insurance coverage."
That language was removed and replaced with a recital stating the commissioners would reduce or eliminate benefits only "in an extreme case such as when an elected officials refuses to assist the board in the reduction of departmental expenses."
"It was very directly related to whether the particular department leaders were cooperating with the effort to close the gap in the budget," Merrill said about the recital. "This is : one of the ways the board might, in the future, close the gap."
Wall said he is sensitive and aware of the county's "serious financial issues" but that he continues to oppose a one-size-fits-all pay reduction and the furlough program, thinking it does not allow him to provide an adequate level of public safety.
"This furlough : cannot work in this agency," Wall said. "We can't provide professional law enforcement services with the program I believe you're going to adopt."
After Tuesday's hearing, Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush questioned the sincerity of Wall's statement that he is sensitive to the dire financial state of the county. She noted meetings last week when department leaders were asked to submit suggested cuts to their operational budgets. Although some departments suggested cutting their operational budget by more than 10 percent, Wall presented $30,000 in proposed cuts, about 3 percent of his operational budget, and announced he would not entertain attempts to cut his budget further.
"That meeting showed me that it's possible our sheriff doesn't really care about cutting our budget," said Mitsch Bush, who also noted substantial increases in the Sheriff's Office's budget in recent years.
The combined Detention Center and Sheriff's Office budget has increased from $3.7 million in 2006, the year Wall was elected, to $4.6 million in 2009.
The furlough plan does not replace the 10 percent pay cuts adopted April 1, but it does provide county employees with "furlough compensatory leave" equal to 10 percent of their regularly scheduled work hours.
Salaried employees who are not eligible for overtime also are not eligible for furlough compensatory leave, but the resolution adopted Tuesday includes a provision allowing department heads to give salaried employees time off work consistent with the furlough plan.
The furlough plan takes effect next week. Specific plans for how the furlough plan will be applied to each county department are expected to be finalized next week, Commissioner Doug Monger said. Monger said he expects most county offices in the Routt County Courthouse that are open to the public to move to four nine-hour days, Monday through Thursday.