Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan talks to a roomful of county employees as well as County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, right, on Tuesday during a meeting to decide whether to lay off employees because of budget cuts.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan talks to a roomful of county employees as well as County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush, right, on Tuesday during a meeting to decide whether to lay off employees because of budget cuts.

County lays off three employees

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners laid off three employees Tuesday, part of an ongoing effort to confront revenue decreases resulting from a troubled economy.

The Human Resources Department, Building and Plant/Purchasing Department, and Clerk and Recorder's Office each lost one employee. Those employees will receive a month of paid leave.

"All indications are : that our revenues are not improving. All indications are that the economy is not going to turn around quickly," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. "It's not easy for any of us to do this, but it's something we have to do."

Judy Wiegard, the employee who was laid off from the Clerk and Recorder's Office, said the loss of her job would have a huge impact on her family's finances and her department. Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland asked the commissioners to delay their decision to lay off Wiegard.

"It's not going to be easy for my staff to pick up where I left off and chop up my job into little pieces," said Wiegard, an invoice supervisor and administrative assistant.

Routt County is facing a $5 million deficit in its 2009 budget. There already have been cuts in personnel, operating and capital costs - including a 10 percent reduction in pay countywide - but the projected deficit still stands at more than $1 million.

"There's only one other place to go," Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said, alluding to the layoffs.

The commissioners also chose to leave open 10 other vacant positions. Those positions will remain unfilled through 2010.

Routt County Assessor Mike Kerrigan argued against freezing positions in his department. He said his department has received about 2,800 property tax assessment appeals this year. The previous high, set in 2001, was 1,800 appeals, Kerrigan said.

Layoffs in the Routt County Regional Building Department are being handled separately because it is a fee-supported department. Last week, the commissioners laid off an electrical inspector and a plans examiner, and they eliminated a seasonal position that had been left open. County Manager Tom Sullivan said the cuts were based on losses in Building Department revenue of up to 50 percent.

The commissioners took no formal action on their 2010 budget, but they gave their staff direction on its development. All three commissioners said they are willing to use some of the county's cash reserves to balance next year's budget. That will give the county latitude to possibly reduce its 10 percent across-the-board pay cut and limit the number of additional layoffs.

To balance next year's budget without the use of cash reserves, the county would have to leave the 10 percent pay reduction in place and eliminate about a dozen more positions.

Regardless of whether the pay cut is reduced, commissioners Stahoviak and Doug Monger said they want to do away with the furlough program the county adopted earlier this year to reduce county employees' hours in an amount proportional to their pay cut.

"It's not targeted at departments where we might have discretion to reduce service levels but impacts those that provide critical services as well," Sullivan said. "It is not sustainable."

Monger said furloughs also were impeding the county's ability to judge where it should reduce service levels or eliminate programs.

Monger and Stahoviak also said they would be willing to consider reducing the pay cut to as low as 5 percent. They expressed a preference for targeted layoffs aimed at reducing levels of service and discretionary programs in exchange for reducing the size of the across-the-board cuts.

Mitsch Bush said she needed more information before making decisions about the 2010 budget, but she expressed hesitancy about reducing the 10 percent pay cut.

"For every percentage we rescind the pay cut, we're laying off more people," she said.

About 30 county employees attended Tuesday's hearing. Carol Comeau, of the Finance Department, said she was in favor of eliminating the furlough plan in favor of "right-sizing" Routt County government.

"I would prefer for our staff to be paid for the hours we need them to work," Comeau said.

County Treasurer Jeanne Whiddon agreed and encouraged the commissioners to scale county government back to its basic functions. Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper urged the commissioners to revisit the 10 percent pay cut. He noted that the commissioners originally planned to spend $2.7 million in reserves this year but through their cuts had reduced the deficit to a level far below that amount.

"Nobody's house payment went down. Your car payment didn't go down. Groceries certainly didn't go down," Draper said. "The result was a decreased level of pay and an increased workload. Our workload has gone up because we have less hours to do the work."

Deputy Clerk Kim Bonner argued that the furloughs should remain. She said the furloughs have allowed county employees to offset their lost wages through means such as reducing their child care expenses or getting a second job on their furlough day.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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