Our View: Layoffs a difficult, but correct, move

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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.

Comments

Suz 4 years, 9 months ago

Yes it is a difficult move to hand down lay offs. But, wouldn't the correct move be for the commisioners to take a good look at the problems within. The furlough that they put into place has done nothing but cause confusion. Work schedules that change from week to week. Comp time instead of over time that must be used or it is lost, which means more confusion because no one knows who is working when. Each department knows where it carries its dead weight but no one wants to be the bad guy and be responsible for someone being laid off. The men and women who work for the county watch and wonder everyday why some of this waste is allowed to continue all the while worring about their own jobs. The right move would be to take a good hard look with in. If this isn't done more jobs will be lost and the problem of waste will continue.

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Fred Duckels 4 years, 9 months ago

In government we have much gnashing and grinding of teeth at a time like this. In the private sector the layoffs affect as much as fifty percent of some companies. Some are eliminated altogether. Our governments need to share in the grief, but it seems like pulling teeth when the time comes. Too many seem entitled.

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aichempty 4 years, 9 months ago

Sorry, but I can't let it go by without mentioning that our Kangaroo Kourthouse was built using $18,000,000 in reserve funds that didn't have to be spent.

The State should have paid for the new court facility. That's what the law says, and it houses state employees. It never should have been forced on Routt County in the first place, and fomer Chief Justice Doucette and current Chief Justice O'Hara are responsible for letting it go ahead back in the beginning. Doucette should not have ordered it to be built, and O'Hara could have reversed the order at any time after he took over the Chief Justice position.

The old courthouse on Lincoln would have been perfectly adequate for another 10-20 years, with some low-cost improvements. The new one has bells and whistles that don't do squat to actually protect the public and serve the cause of justice.

The county commissioners who pushed the project and the judges who allowed it to go ahead before Doucette's order was reversed by the Court of Appeals are responsible for our current budget woes. Be sure to mention it to them whenever you see them.

I don't know the lady who was laid off from the Clerk and Recorder's office, but they are all wonderfully helpful people. I can't say the same for others who still have their jobs with the state, and work in a facility paid for with Routt County taxpayer money, resulting in layoff of county employees today. Justice is the furthest thing from what has actually happened.

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