Editorial Board, June 2009 to September 2009
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Grant Fenton, community representative
- Paul Strong, community representative
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The Routt County Board of Commissioners made the difficult, but ultimately correct, decision Tuesday to lay off three county employees and leave 10 other positions unfilled through 2010. Although it may not be the last set of layoffs for county employees, the commissioners should be commended for their efforts to "right-size" county government.
Tuesday's moves were just the latest in a string of cost-cutting measures adopted by the county in the past year. Routt County government faces a $5 million deficit in its 2009 budget, primarily the result of decreased revenues resulting from the economic recession. Previous budget cuts still leave the county more than $1 million short of a balanced budget.
In April, the commissioners enacted an across-the-board 10 percent pay cut for all county employees except elected department leaders, whose salaries are established by the state Legislature. The pay reduction will save an estimated $1.05 million this year.
But as Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush noted during Tuesday's public hearing, it simply wasn't enough. Thus the decision to move forward with the layoffs and the long-term freezing of 10 vacant positions.
We're saddened by the loss of employment for three fellow county residents, and it's hard to imagine a more difficult time for families to experience job loss and the economic hardship it brings.
But any emotional reaction to layoffs can't overshadow the fact that government - just like the private sector - must downsize when revenues and workloads decrease. Routt County certainly isn't the first local employer to eliminate positions during the recession, and it won't be the last.
For that matter, Routt County government isn't the only local employer to reduce worker wages since the economy headed south. To boost staff morale and give workers more flexibility, the county also approved in April a furlough plan to accompany the 10 percent pay cuts. It was a move we applauded when it was made.
County officials now are considering whether to abandon the furlough system, which reduced employee hours by 10 percent to match their pay cut. From the beginning, the county made it known that furloughs aren't sustainable and shouldn't be used as a long-term solution to budget shortfalls. County Manager Tom Sullivan noted Tuesday that the furloughs aren't "targeted at departments where we might have discretion to reduce service levels but impacts those that provide critical services, as well."
Sullivan is correct that reduced hours should be targeted at departments that have experienced a decrease demand for service and discretionary programs. But that then begs the question of whether it's better to make everyone work fewer hours each week or eliminate additional positions where warranted?
To that end, Commissioners Doug Monger and Nancy Stahoviak said Tuesday they would be willing to consider reducing the pay cut to as low as 5 percent, a move possible only through additional targeted layoffs.
It won't be an easy or popular decision, but it very well may be the right decision for the taxpayers and residents of Routt County.