Steamboat Springs Routt County commissioners eliminated the 10 percent pay cut and furlough program for some employees Tuesday morning.
They restored the salaries of the building department's electrical inspector and 11 airport employees, who are governed by Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, after presentations from Building Official Carl Dunham and Airport Manager Dave Ruppel.
The airport positions include four Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting personnel; security and operations personnel; and seven maintenance employees, five full time and 2 part time. In addition, seasonal employees who will begin working for the airport Nov. 1 will be exempt from the cuts. Commissioners also lifted a county freeze in overtime pay for the airport employees.
The electrical inspector and airport employees will be exempt from the cuts and furloughs starting Aug. 1 through Dec. 31.
The commissioners adopted the across-the-board pay cuts April 1 in an effort to reduce a budget deficit this year of $4.9 million. The pay cuts will save the county more than $1 million but still aren't enough to balance the 2009 budget. Departments also were asked to trim their operational budgets.
Commissioners Diane Mitsch Bush and Nancy Stahoviak, who supported the building department and airport requests, said they did so because the departments are self-funded and not supported by the county's general fund.
Because they are self-funded, any savings realized from the pay cuts would go into their department reserves, not back to the county, they said.
"To me, this department is different," Mitsch Bush said about the building department. "The whole purpose of the pay cut and furloughs was reducing the general fund deficit. This doesn't reduce the general fund deficit."
They also noted that the current electrical inspector was the only one working for the county - after the other was laid off a few weeks ago - and needed to work five days a week.
Mitsch Bush and Stahoviak said they supported restoring salaries for the airport safety, security and operations and maintenance employees because the FAA requires minimum personnel numbers for those positions. They also noted that airline fees and other charges supported the airport, not the county, and any savings would go into airport reserves.
They opted not to approve requests to restore salaries of airport administrative employees because they are not dictated by FAA guidelines.
Commissioner Doug Monger said he wasn't in favor of completely restoring any county employees' salary. He did suggest restoring 5 percent, which the county may do as part of the 2010 budget. Mitsch Bush and Stahoviak didn't support that idea but said it would be a part of next year's budget discussion.
Monger added that by making certain employees exempt from the pay cuts, other county department leaders, who previously had requested their employee's salaries be restored, would return to make the same demand.
Wall: Move 'unfair'
Sheriff Gary Wall repeatedly has requested that his deputies' salaries be restored. He attended Tuesday's meeting. Afterward, he said the commissioners did something "none of us thought could happen and further devastated morale of the employees of this county."
Wall said commissioners referred to the airport as a separate entity from the county. He said his office is a separate entity, constitutionally and statutorily.
"I find it unbelievable and unfair to my employees because every one of my employees deals with life and safety issues in this county," he said. "They exempted airport employees who deal with life and safety issues and yet, not mine."
Wall said the commissioners exempted the building department employee and the airport employees, but not his own, for one of two reasons.
"They care less about public safety and law enforcement in Routt County," he said. "Or this is a political and personal retribution toward me to not exempt my employees for the same reason they exempted airport employees. You're either a county employee, or you're not. I find what they did unbelievable, and the effect on the rest of the county employees remains to be seen."
Asked whether Tuesday's action by commissioners would be the impetus for him to file legal action against the county, Wall said he was going to continue to assess his options after commissioners had treated the Sheriff's Office "so blatantly different" than the airport.
In a continued effort to meet a budget shortfall still at more than $1 million for the rest of the year, the county laid off three employees July 7. Layoffs in the building department, which included the electrical inspector and a plans examiner, were done separately because the department is self-funded. Other vacant county positions were frozen or eliminated earlier this year. Cuts also were made to county capital and operational expenditures.