County adopts pay cuts
Elected officials split about voluntary participation
By the numbers
Three major Routt County revenues, 2007-09 (in thousands of dollars)
2007 2008* 2009 budget 2009 projected
Property tax $13,589 $14,879 $15,752 $15,752
Sales Tax $7,151 $6,328 $5,026 $4,142
Investment income $1,007 $1,856 $756 $468
Source: Routt County
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Board of Commissioners approved 10 percent emergency pay cuts for county employees at a long and fiery hearing Wednesday.
More than 80 county employees – from the seat of the snowplow to child support enforcement – packed a hearing room in the newly remodeled Routt County Courthouse and pulled no punches in their remarks to the commissioners, who unanimously approved the cuts and cited a need to take significant and immediate action to confront a $4.9 million 2009 budget deficit.
“The lack of notice in this particular issue is very frustrating to me,” said Routt County Communications employee Erik Foster, referring to the fact employees were given only one day’s notice about Wednesday’s special hearing. “We don’t need to be handled with kid gloves, but I think it’s important for you to communicate with us.”
Another complaint expressed Wednesday was that the cuts are not being coupled with a proportional reduction in workers’ hours, which was the approach taken by the city of Steamboat Springs earlier this year.
“Our families are suffering here,” said Carolyn Gibson, of the Routt County Human Services Department. “If we have the opportunity to pick up additional jobs, we can still sustain.”
The commissioners did amend their resolution to state that they will evaluate other options in coming weeks, including a plan to transition to Friday furloughs suggested by employees in the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. Sheriff Gary Wall suggested the commissioners take employees’ comments and suggestions to heart and delay a decision on the pay cuts in the interim.
“If you pass this resolution today : you’re going to suck a lot of loyalty out of your employees that has built up over the years,” Wall said.
The commissioners, however, noted that delaying a decision would reduce the anticipated savings from the pay cuts by $61,808 each two-week pay period. Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush countered Wall’s argument that it would be “the best $60,000 you ever spent,” saying the money could be used to save a job or two down the road.
“That might then force us to do layoffs that we would very much like to prevent,” Mitsch Bush said. “We struggled long and hard about this decision, and it wasn’t a decision we came to lightly. : We are in a very, very significant budget crisis.”
The cuts approved Wednesday will be reflected in county employees’ April 15 paychecks. The move is expected to save $1.05 million this year.
“This is not the only step,” Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said. “This is a step we can take today to stop what I’m going to call the bleeding because that’s what it is. : We’re hoping what we’re doing today will be a very temporary situation, but we don’t know.”
Other options still on the table for future consideration include eliminating some of the county’s about 285 full-time-equivalent positions. According to a document used during Friday’s retreat, the elimination of 19 positions would reduce county personnel expenses by a minimum of $695,400.
“I think the question in everyone’s mind is, ‘Is it going to be me and when?’ That’s what’s killing morale in Routt County right now,” said Heather McLaughlin, senior engineer for Routt County Road and Bridge.
Elected Routt County officials interviewed Wednesday were split on whether they would voluntarily participate in the cuts. Elected officials were not affected by the resolution adopted Wednesday because their salaries are set by the state Legislature and cannot be changed during their term of office.
At their discretion, however, elected officials may donate a portion of their salary back to the county. Or, to take advantage of tax deductions, elected officials could donate a portion of their salary to community service agencies funded by the county. The county would then reduce its 2009 contribution to agencies by the same amount.
Mitsch Bush and Treasurer Jeanne Whiddon said they would be donating 10 percent of their salaries, but they still need to work out the details. Commissioners Stahoviak and Doug Monger, Sheriff Gary Wall, Clerk & Recorder Kay Weinland and Coroner Rob Ryg said they are undecided. Assessor Mike Kerrigan said he would not.
“It is a different situation,” Stahoviak said. “Each of us, individually, have to make that choice, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Some of the elected officials said it is a difficult decision because elected officials are not on an even playing field with other county employees. They are not eligible for unemployment benefits, and they can be held personally liable for their actions. Stahoviak noted that while county employees have enjoyed annual pay increases between 6 and 10 percent, the Legislature has only raised her pay twice since 1993, for an average of 3 percent a year. It was also pointed out that the commissioners, at $58,500 a year, make significantly less than their department heads. Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper, for example, earns $109,744 a year.
“I think people should consider not judging people too harshly for making that decision,” Whiddon said. Whiddon, who earns $71,000 a year as the treasurer, said she was undecided about whether to donate a portion of her salary before Wednesday’s hearing. Afterward, she didn’t think she could face her employees without participating in the pain with them.
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