The Payson Town Council Thursday approved $4.5 million in sweeping budget cuts, including layoffs of about six to seven full-time workers and more than 120 seasonal and part-time workers.
The council, on a 6-1 vote, approved the layoffs and rejected an alternative plan to borrow $300,000 from the water department. The council’s motion gave Town Manager Debra Galbraith open-ended authority to make deep cuts, based on projections of an accelerating decline in revenues.
“We are entering a very, very difficult period. We’re in uncharted territory,” said Mayor Kenny Evans of the worsening economic conditions that led to a steep drop in sale tax receipts in October. “We have to make the tough decisions.”
Councilor Mike Vogel, a former firefighter and union representative, said, “I’ve spent most of my life representing working people. I’ve had people coming up to me in the last two weeks saying, ‘Mike, what’s wrong with you?’ I’ve spent more time on this than anything in the last two and a half years, but there’s just no way to get around it. It yanks my heart.”
Only councilor Michael Hughes voted against the modest layoffs of full-time employees and the sweeping layoffs of part-time and seasonal employees. Hughes said the town should borrow the money from the water department, which would cost about $8,500 a month for the next three years.
“We should have finished out the year with the staff we have,” said Hughes. “I’m not saying the rest of the council was wrong. This is probably the hardest decision we’ll ever have to make.”
The cuts were based on the sharp drop in sales tax receipts and the disturbing decline in other revenue sources. The town’s revenue for the first four months of the year is running about $500,000 behind even the pessimistic assumptions built into the budget adopted in July. Projections based on guesswork suggest the town could end up with revenues totaling about $23.5 million instead of the $28 million budget planners assumed in June.
The cuts included $214,000 from the layoff of full-time workers and $325,000 by laying off more than 120 seasonal and part-time workers — mostly in the parks department.
Ironically, later in the meeting Police Chief Don Engler reported he had come to a tentative agreement with the Tonto Apache Tribe on a $200,000 annual contract to provide police protection on reservation land — about the same amount the town will save as a result of the layoff of full-time workers.
Engler said he hoped the town would use the money to give police officers an 8-percent raise and perhaps replace two retiring officers and fill three currently vacant positions. The council approved Engler’s request to conclude the negotiations — hopefully by early next year.
Galbraith said that potential infusion of money would have no effect on the layoffs and budget cuts now under way.
The plan adopted by the council Thursday night also calls for eliminating almost all capital improvement projects and most street maintenance, including the $1.1 million rebuild of Bonita Street, $800,000 to buy three acres of land near the airport and a host of other cuts. (For details of the proposed cuts, see the story on page 6A.)
After the meeting, Galbraith said she will meet with six full-time employees slated for layoff this morning. The employees will be let go effective Jan. 1, she said.
Budget documents suggest the layoffs will affect parks and recreation, the town manager’s office, finance, police, fire, planning and roads — generally one position in each department.
Galbraith also said that the town will lay off all the part-time and seasonal employees as well, although changes in the revenue might avert some of those layoffs before the busy summer recreation season.
The parks department could suffer the heaviest blow, with one layoff in administration and the loss of the part-time staff that run most of the parks programs. The adopted plan would keep Taylor Pool open for at least part of next summer.
The youth and adult programs in parks and recreation bring in about $100,000 in revenue. Most of the youth programs are self-supporting. Galbraith said that the layoff of part-time and seasonal employees would not be affected by whether they work in programs that pay their own incremental costs.
The Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation meanwhile is scrambling to launch a fund-raising drive that would bring in $100,000 to avert the layoffs of part-timers that could shut down parks programs that have more than doubled in participation in the last two years.