Tough Times Mean Tough Measures: Employee Furloughs Planned for Montrose

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

Montrose city officials say the slumping economy has dropped city funds to levels never seen before -- and as they fight to balance the budget, they say they have no choice but to take more drastic steps.

Montrose City Manager Mary Watt says she and other city workers are in a bind. 80 percent of the city's revenue comes from sales tax. But as the tough economic times have caused citizens to cut back on spending, that revenue stream keeps getting smaller and smaller -- something they haven't seen in more than 20 years.

"Since 1986, we've only seen an increase in sales and use tax collected," said Shani Wittenburg, Finance Director for the City of Montrose.

In order to counteract that kind of a shortfall, officials say they made budget cuts in the usual places: office supplies, travel, general fund projects, and putting hiring freezes into effect for vacant jobs.

"As we have looked at it month to month, we have made the appropriate cuts," said Watt.

But with the latest numbers in, they say those cuts just weren't enough. First quarter sales tax revenues were down 11 percent or roughly $2.3 million.

"We started out at twenty million dollars and we're down to seventeen million one-hundred thousand," said Wittenburg. "So it's a pretty big chunk of change."

So Monday, the city announced a two day employee furlough, meaning employees will have to take unpaid days off and all city offices will be closed on May 22 and July 6.

"It's not a decision we wanted to make," said Watt.

Officials say in the interest of public safety, sworn police officers will still work those two days, and instead give up 16 hours of vacation pay. To make sure trash and other sanitation services aren't disrupted, officials say those workers may have to take off two different days.

"I'm hoping it's fairly optimistic," said Watt. "Of course it always impacts people's salaries so we are concerned about that."

Officials say the two furlough days should save the city $70,000.

"Of course we hope this is the only furlough we have to do," said Watt.

But if things don't improve, they say it's something they may have to discuss again.

"We want to make sure that at the end of the year we're not having to make further cuts that do affect city services," said Watt.

Officials say they will make decisions on a month by month basis, but one thing they won't consider cutting is services to citizens.

The City of Montrose says March sales tax revenues were up two percent over January and February, which it hopes is a sign of better things to come.

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