Apr 132011

By Naomi Hatch —

The Town of Taylor’s department heads have been working diligently on budget cuts for more than a year and a half, making decisions on what could be cut if they didn’t have money and had to streamline.

At the April 7 town council meeting, Town Manager Eric Duthie explained that on March 3, an e-mail was sent to Mayor Debbie Tuckfield and Vice Mayor Jordy Fuentes that included a department head memo regarding budget adjustment action, which included positional layoffs. Town Attorney Sterling Solomon reviewed the memo and layoff notices, and approved them as to form.

The e-mail noted, “The department head memo explained the need to lay off specific positions within the town workforce, due to funding loss…Staff works hard to hold expenditures under revenues, but revenues continue to sag and trend toward limited, if any, short term recovery.”

The memo explained that the February financial report and forecast for the short and long term “make it impossible to maintain these valuable staff positions any longer.

“The layoffs decrease our full-time employees with benefits from 21 to 15, a 29 percent reduction in workforce. Considering the services the residents routinely received over the years, this is not nearly enough to continue to provide all the services at the same level. We serve diligently, but seek town council support by articulating the staffing issues to the public, that they may be acutely aware of the real problems facing the town.”

Duthie said that they will continue to explore service delivery options, “but we will undoubtedly be negatively impacted.”

He noted that since 2009, employees have been aware that positional layoffs could come and they have been encouraged to explore other employment opportunities.

“Obviously, this is easier said than done, which makes it heartbreaking to take these steps,” said Duthie. “We held out as long as we could.”

On March 9, positional layoff orders were issued to four full-time employees, with their last day of employment being March 31. In addition, two full-time office positions were reduced to part-time, with the option of further reduction effective March 31.

It was projected that these actions reduce town expenditures by $56,000 for the remainder of fiscal year 2010-11 and projects to reduce $227,000 of expenditures from the 2011-12 fiscal year budget.

It was noted that the state has taken back Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF) and shared revenues.

“The difficulty is knowing these things are coming. The big problem we have is how do we continue to provide services at the level we have losing 29 percent of our workforce?” asked Duthie.

“It occurred to me that most of the employees who have been laid off and cut back are those who are employees, not of the administrative positions,” said Councilman Jay Whipple. “Is there something we can do for the administration to cut some of their wages?”

Duthie said that they had discussed reducing administrative salaries, but he explained that all staff members would have to take a 10 to 15 percent wage cut to save one full-time position.

Councilman Jared Hatch said he felt the council could do that, too, but felt that on the flip side, administration is being asked to do some of the work of those being laid off, giving more responsibility and putting a larger workload on employees. “We expect more of them and on top of that we cut their salary,” said Hatch, noting that there is also a possibility they will be asked to pay a part of their insurance costs.

“I would like to compliment staff for the time that was taken, the action that was taken,” said Hatch. “I’m saddened by those who had to lose their jobs or hours.”

“I was hit pretty heavy that we laid off five people, wham, and that we were cutting hours. We’ve known about it for years,” said Mayor Debbie Tuckfield, noting that in larger cities they saw firemen laid off and losing their pensions.

“Unfortunately, to have to lay somebody off is heart wrenching. We did everything that we could. We cut and held the cuts as long as we could. We’re deeply sorrowed by that,” said the mayor, noting they are looking at having to pay jail fees and other fees and there simply is no money.

“I do appreciate the staff and what they did for as long as possible,” said the mayor.

In other action April 7, the council:

* Held the second reading and approved Ordinance No. 2011-02, granting a public right-of-way/easement along East Center Street beyond 1000 East. It has been more than 10 years since this process began.

“This is recognition of what’s always been there, intended to be a public right of way. We’re just making it so,” explained Solomon.

* Was advised by Snowflake-Taylor Police Chief Jerry VanWinkle that regrettably they are unable to fund the dispatch proposal to merge communication centers. He said that they are in the process of working with Navajo County on a central dispatch proposal.

* Unanimously approved amending the town code to decrease the Taylor Planning and Zoning Commission to five members rather than seven, and lessen the required quorum to three members.

Jeff Johnson informed the council that they are looking for additional Commission members. Anyone who is interested should contact town hall.

* Approved a schedule of work sessions and meetings regarding the proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-12.

* Received an update from Councilman Robin Palmer on the Taylor-Snowflake Economic Development Committee. He noted that representatives of the mineral and bio-energy agriculture industries are looking at the area. The Snowflake-Taylor Tourism Committee is in support of sporting dog trials coming to the community, and the council also agreed to support this. Duthie gave a brief update on the REAL AZ Corridor, which is seeking job creation and industry in the White Mountains. Members of the committee feel that no matter what area attracts jobs, it will benefit all communities.

* Received an update from Lundberg on Community Block Grant funded energy efficiency projects. He explained that they are nearing completion of the projects, which will save the town money by lowering the number of lights in the public works shop and the fire station, putting energy efficient doors at public works, and putting the old doors on a building that is not heated and did not have doors.