The Payson Town Council Wednesday affirmed $1 million in spending cuts plus an across-the-board furlough that amounts to a 12.5 percent pay cut for the balance of the fiscal year.
Everyone except the town manager will stay home two days a month, which will save the town about $300,000.
The council exempted Town Manager Deborah Galbraith from the furlough so that she could remain on-call around the clock and cover for the 10 or 12 other managers, who can’t so much as answer their cell phones once they’ve put in 30 hours during one of the week’s they’re furloughed.
Payson Mayor Kenny Evans said the plunge in tax revenues and state aid have dried up the town’s revenue stream in the past two years. The town has cut total discretionary spending from $39 million down to about $22 million in that time, said Evans.
“Making such deep cuts is a tough, tough thing to do,” said Evans. “But we are at a loss for other options. We have scoured every place we could look. We’ve cut 43 percent overall and we’re using all our resources to minimize the impact on our employees in the midst of the worst downturn in this state’s 100-year history.”
The furloughs will affect everyone in the police and fire departments.
The 30-officer police department now has two patrol officers and one sergeant on duty around the clock. The furloughs and new limits on overtime will likely reduce the force to one officer and a sergeant on many shifts, said Police Chief Don Engler.
The fire department currently has 21 firefighters and 10 reserve firefighters. That’s enough to have three-man crews on each of the town’s fire trucks around the clock. The furloughs will probably force the department to put just two men on each truck for many shifts, said Fire Chief Marty deMasi.
The police and fire departments account for about half of the town’s general fund budget.
The cuts could also affect many programs at the parks and recreation department, since the town will once again eliminate most part-time and temporary workers. The department will seek more volunteer help to keep programs operating as it did last summer, said Evans.
All told, the most recent sales and income tax figures coupled with projected cuts in state funding prompted the town manager to project a $2.6 million shortfall by the end of the year. A $1 million loan from the water department will cover part of the shortfall. The cuts approved by the council this week will hack away another $1.6 million — most of it from the town’s $14 million general fund budget.
Only a handful of employees and almost no members of the public showed up at the 3 p.m. special meeting to listen to the litany of cutbacks.
No one from the audience spoke at the meeting dominated by a number-laden Power Point presentation.
The discussion included no mention of two potentially controversial options mentioned at the last budget meeting — a change in the town’s $88,000 contract with the Humane Society to handle stray dogs and cats and elimination of contracts with nonprofit groups like the Payson Senior Center.
The meeting provoked only one exchange — this one between Evans and Councilor Ed Blair.
Blair was among the few council members to ask any questions during the weighty presentation of the numbers.
At the conclusion of the presentation, he commented, “We’re balancing the budget on the backs of our employees and it’s just sad.”
Evans objected to the comment.
“I must take exception,” he said sternly. Referring to the effective pay cut imposed by the furlough he said, “Twelve percent is the number, but we’ve reduced the budget overall by 42 percent in two years. This is the first reduction for the employees. To suggest we are balancing the budget on the backs of our staff is just wrong.”
Blair immediately backed off. “I apologize,” he said, noting that he hadn’t thought of the 12 percent in the context of the overall cuts in the past two years. The council had made several million in cuts when it adopted the current budget and then also laid off six employees and imposed a hiring freeze and salary freeze.
Other council members supported the mayor.
Vice Mayor Mike Vogel said all the calls he’s gotten from town employees have been supportive. “Not one of those callers has faulted the council or the town. Basically, they support us,” he said.
Councilor John Wilson chimed in, “I’ve heard the same thing.”
Mayor Evans added, “Some of them are in a salary range that a 12 percent reduction is a sizeable life impact.”
The furloughs represented the biggest single reduction.
Evans at the outset took pains to justify exempting the town manager from the furlough. He said salaried management employees often work significantly more than 40 hours per week without overtime. State laws say that any management employee put on furlough must then be considered an hourly employee — which means they can’t work more than 30 hours in the furlough week.
As a result, reducing the hours of those salaried employees would actually cost the town a lot more work hours than reducing hours for a salaried employee.
Nonetheless, even the fire chief and police chief were put on furlough. Galbraith will now have to remain on-call around the clock to cover for any of the other town department managers on furlough.
The budget plan will also boost employee health costs by about $40,000 — or $17 to $44 per paycheck.
The balance of the cuts came in the form of a $1 million list of small cuts including supplies, utilities, travel, computers, uniforms, gasoline, overtime and professional services.
The cuts will leave the town with a roughly 2 percent reserve — about $340,000.
Evans predicted the furloughs and other cutbacks would remain in place for at least three months, even if the December revenue numbers due out in a week or so show an improvement.
“We want to make sure that any improvement is not just a blip on the radar screen — but a real trend,” he said.