County personnel face reality of cuts

Departments reorganizing workload

The directors of several Moffat County departments are searching for ways to deal with personnel cuts included in the 2004 county budget.

The Museum of Northwest Colorado lost its five part-time employees. One of the two Natural Resources Department employees was eliminated. An assistant's position in the Human Resources Department that was just made full-time in October has been returned to part-time. And the emergency service coordinator position with the Maybell Ambulance Service has been eliminated.

The small size of many county departments makes any personnel cut a major issue to deal with. The day after the cuts were announced, department directors were already looking for strategies to reorganize their offices and prioritize responsibilities.

Dan Davidson, Museum of Northwest Colorado director, was surprised to hear the positions of five part-time museum employees would be cut.

He'd heard the Moffat County Commissioners might cut library funding or close Shadow Mountain Clubhouse, among other proposals to balance the 2004 budget.

But no one mentioned museum personnel cuts to him.

For their part, the cut employees have handled the news well, Davidson said.

"A number of them said, 'Can we volunteer?'" he said. "That was their response, which shows the quality of people we have here."

For his part, Davidson said he's just happy the museum isn't closed and he still has a job.

In September, Davidson complied when commissioners requested all county departments to cut their budgets by 20 percent. He cut part-time employee payroll by 25 percent -- about $10,000 -- and slashed operating expenses by scheduling fewer displays and exhibits, reducing funds for the building's upkeep, and canceling the oral history and historic publication's programs.

Davidson said the part-time employee cuts amount to a 1.4 person reduction in staff. Part-time employees performed many of the day-to-day operations at the museum. The museum's 10 volunteers and two full-time employees may pick up some of those responsibilities.

The elimination of the part-time positions will save the county $32,500.

Starting in January, the museum, which is currently free, will start charging admission fees of $2 per person and $5 per family. Davidson said he is "hoping to come up with some options" to subsidize the budget cuts.

"There are a number of areas we are deficient in that have been fine since we opened in '91," he said.

Fifty percent of the Natural Resources Department fell under the axe Monday, with the elimination of Ann Franklin, Natural Resources Specialist, effective in March.

Jeff Comstock, Natural Resources director, said Franklin has been active in developing and integrating the county fire plan, working with the livestock management program in Dinosaur, and, in conjunction with the Northwest Colorado Stewardship Program, collecting citizen advice for the management of federally owned land.

The elimination of Franklin's position will save the county $39,236.

Before the job cut becomes effective in March, Comstock intends to set up a series of workshops with the commissioners and public to prioritize issues within the department. Comstock said he and Franklin routinely put in 60-hour weeks, so, as the only employee in Natural Resources, he'll be unable to do her work by himself.

The Natural Resources Department has been under fire from other county departments, including the Sheriff Department and the Clerk and Recorder, during the entire budget debate, because the department is not mandated by the state. Comstock invited his critics to come by his office to see and discuss the work he does, but he said no one accepted his offer.

When asked about his department's morale, Comstock said they are keeping their chins up while looking at the bigger picture.

"We all need to start working together instead of against each other," Lynette Running, Human Resources director, said of the recent infighting among county employees.

In October, the commissioners voted to hire a full-time employee to fill the assistant's position left vacant when Running was promoted to director. On Monday, the commissioners announced the assistant's position, staffed by Jo Reed, would be cut to part-time on Jan. 1.

Reed was hired as a temporary part-time assistant in June. The commissioners' vote in October made her position permanent full-time. Monday's budget announcement made it permanent part-time.

The commissioners decided to hire a full-time assistant because Running said her department could better manage workmen's compensation claims if staffed by two full-time employees. With the cut in Reed's hours, Running said claims management "may suffer."

The county will save $27,237 by making cutting Reed's job to part-time. Running said she would reapply to make the position full-time as the budget allows.

The elimination of the emergency medical services coordinator in Maybell, effective in March, has made the Maybell Ambulance Service once again a volunteer service. Cutting the EMS coordinator's position will save the county $35,137.

Six volunteers and EMS coordinator Karen Burley make up the Maybell Ambulance Crew. By eliminating her position, Burley said the county has left about 62 percent of rural Moffat County without daytime medical coverage.

Last June, Burley left Moffat County Social Services, where she'd worked for 12 years, to accept a full-time paid position with the ambulance service. She said depending on the hours of her new job, she may no longer volunteer with the service.

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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