Photo by Matt Stensland
Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, left, and County Attorney John Merrill, right, listen to County Manager Tom Sullivan read a furlough agreement Tuesday during a meeting in the Commissioners Hearing Room.
Steamboat Springs Two out of three Routt County Commissioners all but guaranteed there will be layoffs in county government before the end of the year to confront a $4.9 million deficit and allow the county to repeal pay cuts and furloughs as soon as possible.
"We've just about picked all the low-hanging fruit," Commissioner Doug Monger said Tuesday during a hearing to adopt a resolution implementing the furlough plan. "The next one's going to be branches off the tree."
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak agreed. She said she hopes to repeal the furlough plan and an associated 10 percent pay reduction adopted April 1 as soon as county finances allow but that such a move would only occur if the county can find other ways to reduce its personnel expenses.
"There will be layoffs," Stahoviak said. "It is my hope that that the furlough and 10 percent pay cut will end at the end of the year. : I hope this can be as temporary as possible."
The 2009 adopted budget was balanced with $2.7 million in county reserves. County Manager Tom Sullivan said Tuesday that at the current rate, county reserves would be depleted in 2016. While county officials knew its finances weren't sustainable and adjustments would have to be made in time for the 2010 budget, Sullivan said they did not realize how quickly and drastically it would have to act. That fact was brought home when tax and fee collections for the first months of the year projected a $2.2 million shortfall in revenues during the course of 2009. February's county sales tax collections, for example, were 26 percent lower than expected, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the move to reduce personnel costs by 10 percent is a stopgap measure that could be enacted quickly while the county develops a more strategic long-term approach to reducing its spending. That approach may involve layoffs, but the county is first working to reduce operational budgets as much as possible.
"We want to exhaust all our other cuts before we have to get there," Sullivan said.
The furlough plan adopted Tuesday 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.
Road and Bridge Department Director Paul Draper said Tuesday that he would rather see employees' hours reduced, but their hourly wage stay the same.
"Let's get rid of the pay reduction and pay our employees what they're worth," he said. "Their job hasn't gotten easier. We're going to have to work harder to get the same job done. : Any given day in road and bridge, there's only going to be 75 percent of our work force there."
Commissioners said they took the approach of reducing pay but allowing furlough compensatory leave so that the paid time off could accrue or be taken in advance, thus giving department heads more flexibility to remain fully staffed at busy times of the year.
The furlough plan takes effect next week. Specific plans for how it 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.
The Routt County Regional Building Department, however, likely will take a different approach and rotate its staff to stay open five days a week.
"We need to provide services five days a week," Building Official Carl Dunham said. "We feel it's a time when we need to support the construction industry."
Dunham met Monday with the commissioners, Yampa Valley Construction Trades Association and officials from the city of Steamboat Springs, which contracts with the county department for building department services, to discuss how the county's moves will affect the department.
Noting that building-use tax is down 60 percent and construction starts are "minimal to nothing," Monger suggested reducing building department fees in an effort to encourage construction. Members of the trades association, however, said such a move wouldn't make much of a difference.
With layoffs now looking likely, the construction slowdown could make the Building Department a prime target for personnel cuts, but Monger said a decision on that is being held off until later this year.