Rifle feels recession sting, faces budget shortfall | PostIndependent.com

Rifle feels recession sting, faces budget shortfall

Heidi Rice
Rifle Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

RIFLE, Coloraado – At first it didn’t seem the recession had really hit as hard in western Colorado as it had in the rest of the country. But in the last couple of months, both the town of Silt and now the city of Rifle are seeing the effects of a recession that has finally come to the Western Slope.

In Rifle, the city now needs to cut $600,000 out of their 2010 general fund budget, which could mean the elimination of employee positions, a reduction in travel and training for city staff and more budget cuts in various city departments.

The city already cut $1.3 million from its general fund budget for 2010, but Rifle City Council has decided that the budget be reduced by another $600,000, in order to balance the budget as required by Colorado state law. Although each city department had prudently made cuts to their individual budgets, the staff came up with another nearly $466,000 in cuts.

Which leaves about $135,000 left to go.

The additional budget cuts proposed by various city departments could come from workman compensation savings, a reduction in the general fund contingency fund, reductions in the planning department, police department, city clerk, government affairs, water and wastewater, public works, streets, senior services and parks and recreation budgets.

Nobody wants that to happen, City Manager John Hier said earnestly, but it is, unfortunately, one of the options the city has to look at.

“Right now, we’re looking at five furlough days per employee [per year] and other options,” Hier said.

The city was down 18.5 percent in sales tax revenue between January and March compared to last year, according to City Finance Director Charles Kelty. Sales tax revenue in November 2009 was down 45 percent from November 2008.

“When we did the 2010 budget, I thought we would come in at least where we were at in 2009,” Kelty said. “But between April and December, we have a $500,000 to $600,000 shortfall. And even with the proposed cuts, we have a $135,000 shortfall. A reduction in force and layoffs may be the only way we can come up with the difference. We don’t want to do this, but it appears it may be necessary.”

The city already cut $1.3 million when doing its general fund budget for 2010, which included deferred capital expenditures, restrictions on travel and training, attrition on employee vacancies and a pay freeze.

Kelty said it could be a while before the city sees a recovery from the recession.

“We were in the bubble and it didn’t impact us that much at first,” he said.

The city’s finances will be OK once the recession recedes, but that could take up to 18 months, Kelty added.

The town of Silt recently laid off its town administrator and town attorney, along with a proposal to eliminate the community development director and planning technician positions, due to budget constraints. The deputy town clerk and police clerk positions were also reduced from full-time to part-time. Other budget cuts included a decrease in pay for the town board and a hiring freeze. The town was facing a $275,000 deficit in its budget.

The cuts were prompted by three newly elected members of the Silt Town Board and the mayor, and were met with mixed reactions by Silt residents.

In Rifle, Hier and other senior staff members, will be making the decision if there are to be workforce reductions at city hall and if so, which ones, within the next month. City staff will be working with city council members to determine exactly where the cuts will be made.

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