Basalt’s layoffs criticized
November 27, 2002
Angry residents criticized the Basalt Town Council last night for laying off popular employees and taking action they claimed will jeopardize a top-notch recreation program.
About a dozen parents and volunteer coaches tried to convince the board to reconsider budget cuts made for 2003. Several speakers demanded that former recreation department director Nick Alcorta be brought back for nine or so months before programs are turned over to a special recreation district approved Nov. 5 by voters.
The town’s popular public services director Gerry Pace, a 16-year town employee, and part-time court clerk Paulette Durica were also laid off by the town in surprise moves two weeks ago. A police investigator’s position was eliminated through attrition.
Resident Tony Thompson said that as a town taxpayer he was “embarrassed” by how the town addressed its budget challenges.
“People make a difference. What you did to these three individuals is unexcusable,” Thompson said.
Town officials countered that they were forced to make some tough and unpopular decisions due to reduced revenues. They refused to rescind the layoffs and, later, unanimously approved a $3.5 million budget for 2003.
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Mayor Rick Stevens vowed that the recreation program would remain as strong as ever despite the loss of a director. He faced trouble selling that claim to the audience.
“We are fairly united in our despair over what has happened,” said Shae Ross, president of the Basalt Volleyball Club, which is independent but affiliated with the recreation program.
Alcorta’s release is already affecting morale because parent volunteers will be forced to figure out what a paid director excelled at, such as organization, Ross said.
“We feel like everything has just sort of crumbled,” she said.
Ross was particularly saddened that town officials said the decision was just business.
“This is not business. This is affecting the kids,” she said.
Resident Howard Berg demanded specific examples of how the town government will make up for the loss of Alcorta without a deterioration of kids’ programs. He didn’t think it was possible.
“I’m thoroughly disgusted,” Berg said.
Stevens said the town helped get the Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District approved and now will help with a smooth transfer of programs to that organization. The town’s recreation department budget remains intact ? except for Alcorta’s salary ? so actual programs won’t be hurt, he said.
But resident Steve Martin said Alcorta helped in ways that cannot be replaced merely by keeping a budget intact. Alcorta’s knowledge, experience and dedication were invaluable, Martin said.
He noted that the new recreation district won’t be in position to run programs for at least eight months, when it starts collecting tax revenues. Like Berg, he senses disaster in the meantime.
“The rec program is going to falter. It’s going to falter big,” said Martin.
Concerns were also expressed over the dismissal of Pace, who had been with the town since 1986 and known for his helpful approach.
“Gerry Pace was an ambassador for Basalt,” said Kathy Ulibarri. “You can go to a lot of pretty towns, but it’s the people that make a town.”
Town Manager Tom Baker, regarded as a master of diplomacy, told the angry crowd he wasn’t trying to “diminish” their concerns. He invited several speakers to work with the town to ensure the recreation program remains successful.
[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]