Basalt becomes latest government to lay off employees
BASALT – Basalt laid off two employees this week after watching revenues continue to plummet during its usually strong summer tourist season, Town Manager Bill Kane said Tuesday.
A planner and a building technician were released, Kane said. In addition, the town will defer the replacement of a third employee who is expected to leave, saving one-half of a full-time equivalent position in next year’s budget, he said. The savings will amount to about $190,000 in wage and benefit packages, according to Kane.
Two additional positions won’t be filled, one each in the public works and police departments.
“This is the hardest thing you can do,” Kane said.
Basalt had to tighten its belt like other governments, private businesses and households facing declining income.
“We’re not any different from anyone else,” he said.
Basalt’s layoffs were the latest in a round of actions taken by local governments. Last week, Pitkin County eliminated 6.5 position and laid off three full-time employees and one part-timer. Previously, Aspen eliminated 16 positions, including 12 layoffs; Snowmass Village eliminated 8.5 positions, including six layoffs.
The number of layoffs appear small in Basalt, given the actions by other governments, but the town started with only 31 positions, Kane noted.
Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux was a member of the Town Council the last time staff members were laid off in 2002.
“It’s never a good feeling to lay anyone off, especially experienced people [who] have been trained,” he said.
The layoffs were a last resort for the 2010 budget, according to Duroux.
“We just went through and reduced as much as we could,” he said.
Less demand for services from the planning and building departments resulted in the specific layoffs.
Basalt staff will meet today to talk about other ways the 2010 budget will affect them. Kane declined to comment on specifics, out of respect for his staff.
Basalt had to slash expenditures after revenues crashed this year. Sales tax revenues for the fiscal year-to-date, December through August, were down 12.6 percent. Basalt has collected $2.53 million in sales tax revenues to date, down from $2.9 million at the same point last year.
For all of 2009, Basalt budgeted $6.7 million in total revenue. It is now projected to be $900,000 less at $5.8 million, Kane said. Building fees have plummeted as drastically as sales tax collections.
The staff and council are taking a conservative approach and expect revenues in 2010 to be flat from this year’s projected amount.
The recession continues to batter Basalt businesses. Sales tax revenues for August were down 11.7 percent. Revenues for retail food establishments, which include the busy City Market supermarket, were down 7 percent for August.
Restaurants with bars, another strong sector of Basalt’s economy, were down 21 percent in August. General retail stores were down 6 percent. Even liquor stores, which has managed increased revenues during much of the recession, were down 13.2 percent in August.
Basalt will dip into reserves for about $500,000 to balance the 2010 budget, Kane said. The town has a general fund reserve of about $3 million.
Despite the belt tightening, the town government will place a priority on maintaining streets and other public works, continue to plant and maintain its famous summer gardens, and undertake some “neat projects,” Kane said. The Willits pedestrian trail will be completed, a vital pedestrian link between the roundabout and post office will be built, and a study of a pedestrian overpass or underpass of Highway 82 to connect to South Side will be resurrected.
“We’re not shutting government down by any means,” Kane said.
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