It wasn’t an easy decision, but Dawson County’s finance and budget staff is recommending employee furloughs beginning next month.
Citing several months of sinking revenues, County Manager Kevin Tanner told employees last week the only option aside from layoffs is five unpaid days off over the next four months.
“We really have no other alternative. We held off as long as we possibly could and made substantial cuts to the county’s operating budget,” Tanner said. “We really have no other option right now.”
With all 280 full-time employees taking five days off without pay, the county stands to save about $195,000 in salaries, which will help balance the loss of tax revenue.
The county commission will hear a presentation on the proposed furloughs during Thursday’s work session. A vote is expected the following week.
The county has made more than $4.7 million in cuts in various areas and continues to look for ways to trim expenses, Tanner said.
According to Tanner, asking the board to implement furloughs was a last resort.
County departments have been restructured, positions have been left vacant and recent policies limit take-home vehicles, travel and training, as well as cell phone use.
The county also announced employees would not receive cost of living raises this year.
“With all of these reductions in revenue, even with us offsetting over $4 million, we still find ourselves in a situation where we need to cut additional costs,” Tanner said.
“Furloughs are a quick, short-term solution to a possibly longer term problem. They are not something I want to see implemented on a long-term basis.”
News of the pending furloughs came as a surprise to many county employees, though Commission Chairman Mike Berg had mentioned their possibility earlier this year.
Dawson County Sheriff Billy Carlisle said he was flooded with questions and complaints within moments of sending out a department memo last week to his 112 employees.
“When everybody first heard, it hit pretty hard, especially the employees whose spouse also works for the county,” Carlisle said. “But after we explained everything and the shock wore off, I think everyone understands we have to do this.
“One employee said it best. It’s better that we all pitch in than the county to have to lay people off.”
The county’s first furlough day is planned for Sept. 4. Two will follow in October, and one each in November and December.
All county offices will be closed on these days, which fall before holidays when county offices were already scheduled to be closed.
Many neighboring counties have implemented furloughs. Hall County did so about 18 months ago. Berg said Dawson held off as long as it could.
“The economics dictate we have to do something,” he said. “I applaud the county manager for coming to that conclusion.”
Commissioners Julie Hughes Nix, Gary Pichon and James Swafford agreed.
District 3 Commissioner Mike Connor said he believes the furloughs should have happened earlier.
“Maybe then we could have avoided some of the cutbacks we’re having to make now,” he said.
Nix, Swafford and Berg on Monday said they plan to return a percentage of their salaries back to the county to show their appreciation to employees.
“This has been happening all over the country, the state and now it has reached Dawson County,” Nix said. “This will pass, but it will take some time.
“I know our department heads are really taking a look at how they can cut back, and I’m so amazed at how at our employees are helping us work through this.”