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|City mandates unpaid furloughs for workers|
|Written by Brenna Goth|
|Thursday, 04 October 2012 21:41|
City employees will collectively work about 92 fewer days this month after the city instituted unpaid furloughs to address Tombstone’s financial deficit.
The furloughs began on Sept. 20 and require that each of the city’s 23 full-time employees take one day off per week, said Ruben Villa, the finance manager for the City of Tombstone. Temporary employees are limited to working 20 hours per week. Part-time employees are unaffected by the changes.
The furloughs will reduce city spending by about $18,000 per two-week pay period and about $107,000 over three months, Villa said. The city needs to cut its expenses, and payroll is its biggest cost.
The city government ended the 2012 fiscal year with a $408,000 deficit, Villa said. Tombstone can recover, he said, but it needs to conserve its cash balance.
“My concern is that at the rate we’re spending and writing checks, we’re depleting the reserve or emergency funds and have no money to pay for the rest,” Villa said.
Tombstone survives off an average of $250,000 in revenue each month from sources such as taxes and sales tax, Villa said. Payroll accounts for about $119,000 in monthly expenditures.
But unexpected expenses – including $276,000 related to the city’s water issues – resulted in overspending last year.
The city moved $150,000 from its reserve funds to address the deficit and has moved an additional $150,000 this federal fiscal year. While grant money from the state and other revenue is expected to come in, Tombstone needs to make changes in its current spending to ensure financial woes don’t continue or worsen in the coming year, Villa said.
Villa recommended the city institute a three-month furlough period and then re-evaluate the state of the budget. Mayor Stephen Schmidt accepted the suggestion to avoid harsher cuts – like eliminating positions – in the future, he said.
“There were some people who were not happy,” Schmidt said. “But we need to do it now or we won’t have jobs.”
Furloughs can disturb the flow of work in the government, said former city clerk George Barnes. He said the situation could have been addressed with temporary pay cuts, but the furloughs will tighten the budget.
“You’ve got to make the call,” Barnes said.
Each of the 10 full-time officers employed by the Marshal’s Office are required to take the furlough day, including Marshal Billy Cloud. Cloud said he has readjusted dispatch hours and is covering extra shifts while taking a cut in pay.
The Arizona Rangers and the Tombstone Marshal’s Posse will also pick up extra volunteer hours, Cloud said. The public won’t be affected, though individual employees are.
“I’m not going to allow it to negatively impact law enforcement services for citizens or tourists,” Cloud said.
The Old Firehouse Senior Center will be closed every Friday until further notice as an effect of the furloughs, said center manager Deborah Hankerd. Hankerd is the senior center’s only full-time employee.
The city has had to make cuts in the past but never instituted unpaid furloughs until now, said former Mayor Jack Henderson. Other ways of cutting costs are more effective and less disruptive, he said.
“You don’t mess with people’s livelihoods,” Henderson said. “You figure it out some other way.”
Ward 1 Councilman Steve Troncale said he didn’t see any other options, since he didn’t want to lay anyone off. Furloughs were the “best of the two evils,” he said.
The cuts have affected several city departments, Schmidt said, but he hopes the city will be back on its regular schedule soon. Departments such as the Marshal’s could be put back on the payroll full-time first, he said.
“Some areas have handled it very well,” Schmidt said. “Other areas have just handled it.”
The furloughs are temporary and commonly used by cities making cuts, Villa said. It’s not a permanent solution, but its does result in quick savings.
“This is actual cash you’re not writing a check for,” he said.