Some city employees pleased with effects of furlough
April 5, 2009
Steamboat Springs — The break room in City Hall was busier than usual at lunchtime Thursday, the day before many city employees would take their first unpaid day off as part of a furlough program adopted to balance the city’s budget by cutting employees’ pay 10 percent.
“Our fridge is a lot more full than it used to be,” city engineer Janet Hruby joked.
Grants analyst Winnie DelliQuadri was looking at the bright side and said she looks forward to spending more time with her family.
“On the flip side, I’m eating a lot more rice and beans,” DelliQuadri said.
Bringing lunch from home rather than going out to a restaurant is just one of the ways city employees have responded to the pay cut. Another has been to look for extra work, but most said that is a challenging endeavor.
“It’s hard to figure that out without knowing how long the furlough is going to be,” City Planner Bob Keenan said, “but it certainly opens up the opportunity.”
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Others noted that the economic downturn coupled with the approach of mud season makes finding part-time work especially challenging.
“I don’t know anyone who has found an extra job,” DelliQuadri said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of extra jobs to be had.”
Employees interviewed last week planned to spend their Friday in a variety of ways, from taking a hut trip to shopping in Silverthorne. Regardless of how they will spend the time, city employees’ attitudes toward the cuts was in marked contrast to the gloomy atmosphere that permeated the historic Routt County Courthouse on Wednesday, when county commissioners unanimously approved a similar 10 percent pay cut government-wide, but without a proportional reduction in workers’ hours.
“I’ll try to look at it as an opportunity,” said Kat Kelly, a receptionist in the city’s Planning and Community Development Department. “There are (millions of) people out of work. I still have a job with benefits. I can’t complain at all. They could have fired me, and they didn’t.”
Kelly planned to spend Friday cross-country skiing and then reorganizing her computer room. She hopes to land a home- and Internet-based job she can perform Fridays to help mitigate her loss in pay from the city. It would be a fourth job for Kelly, who also works as a server at the Steamboat Smokehouse and as a hapkido instructor at Colorado Mountain College. Although she said her family already lives “paycheck to paycheck,” Kelly said she is not willing to take on another job away from home.
“I already take enough time away from my kids,” Kelly said. “I think everybody’s just going to try to spend time with family and do things they haven’t had time to do.”
Susan Petersen, recreation supervisor for the city, said the money she will save on child care for her two young boys covers the pay cut.
“For me, it’s a wash,” Petersen said. “And I have extra time to spend with my family. I see it as an opportunity and not a challenge.”
At the county hearing Wednesday, Deputy Clerk Kim Bonner noted this and other benefits when she addressed county commissioners and presented a proposal for the county to adopt a similar program, noting the pros and cons of such a move. She said a furlough program is what most county employees had been expecting and that they could “live with it.”
While the commissioners made no promises, they were receptive to the proposal and amended their pay cut resolution to state that they will evaluate other options in coming weeks.
County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said those efforts began immediately and that County Manager Tom Sullivan held an initial meeting with county employees from various departments on Thursday. Although she said earlier in the week that she “rather doubts” the county would adopt a furlough program, Mitsch Bush said Thursday, “That’s kind of where we’re going here.”