Craig parks, road departments grapple with budget cuts, morale | CraigDailyPress.com

Craig parks, road departments grapple with budget cuts, morale

The Craig Road & Bridge and Parks & Recreation departments are adapting to 2017 budget cuts — mostly consisting of capital projects and frozen positions — as best they can, but morale is reportedly low as city employees worry about their futures.

As the Craig Police Department presses forward to reorganize the department, morale at the two other city departments most affected by budget cuts is also sinking under fears of future cuts.

While Craig's Road and Bridge and Parks and Recreation departments are absorbing the mid-year reductions without any direct impacts to personnel, city employees are worried about what's ahead.

"For the first time since I've really worked for City of Craig, the employees under me are second-guessing where the money's getting spent. And they have never done that before," said Road and Bridge Director Randy Call, who's worked for the city for 34 years.

The last time Call remembered the city being in such dire financial straits was in the late 80's, he said.

Road and Bridge, Parks and Rec and the police department are the three largest departments under the city's general fund, which is facing major shortfalls after the city's sales-tax measure failed in April. Other departments like water and wastewater have their own dedicated funding streams and aren't facing the same shortfalls.

Craig City Council is taking steps to address the fiscal cliff it faces in the next several years with a second attempt at passing a sales-tax increase, now proposed at 1.75 percent, on this November's ballot.

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"This tax is the biggest thing we as a city council can do to reassure our employees and community that we're going to try to maintain our employees where they're at and trying to maintain our services," said Mayor John Ponikvar. "We're working as hard as we can. Our people, our employees, are at the top of our list."

Road and Bridge made the biggest cuts of any department from its 2017 budget to brace against further cuts in 2018, eliminating more than $450,000 in equipment and capital projects it had originally slated for 2017.

"We're trying to do our job the best we can like nothing ever happened," Call said. "(Cuts to) capital will affect us down the road, but it isn't going to affect us in the short term."

Call postponed several 2017 projects like installing a new drainage system along Eighth Street in Craig from Fortification Creek to Yampa Avenue, and delayed some heavy equipment purchases such as a paver.

The Road and Bridge Department has been one of the few to be spared personnel reductions in recent years. The last position Call eliminated was a mechanic about five years ago, reducing the department's number of mechanics from three to two.

Despite his own assurances to his 15 employees, five or six of whom have been with the department more than 25 years, Call said his staff is worried about the budget.

"I think the worst fear is in my older employees, but I tell them, you know, if it's in my department, it's going to go on seniority," Call said. "I can boost my guys on a day-to-day basis, but there's still those doubts in their minds… They're worried if the sales tax doesn't pass, then what's next."

Parks and Rec staff are also concerned, as they've seen three positions frozen through attrition in the last two years. The department is now a "lean and mean" staff of five, where it used to be eight, said Director Dave Pike.

Most recently, the city pool manager resigned, resulting in the city's recent decision to close the pool early this year on Aug. 22, Ponikvar said. The decision will most impact seniors who use the pool, he added, as well as kids who look forward to September's after-school swim program, which has been canceled this year.

The reductions also mean the department is short-handed at Woodbury Park, Pike said, which is in high use with sports events all summer long. Other projects like installing picnic shelters and benches at Breeze Street Park, refinishing faded wood carvings and assisting the school district with its swimming program have also been been canceled for this year.

"We've kind of been going through this process, taking baby steps, but there's no baby steps left to take," Pike said. "Everybody's worried about their jobs, and everybody's worried about the sales tax in November. It's really hard to plan for anything because we don't know what the future holds."

One other challenge named by both department heads is the fact that city employees haven't received a raise for at least six years.

Nonetheless, Ponikvar assured that no further positions would be eliminated in 2018, though whether that remains true in 2019 depends on the fate of November's sales tax measure.

While some have questioned city council's prioritization of city beautification efforts, Ponikvar sees the effort as a key part of economic development.

"We understand the community needs to look good if we're going to draw investment to the community," he said. "If our parks aren't maintained, if the roads aren't good, if don't have police services, we're not going to be able to draw people," including professionals coming as part of future expansion at both the hospital and college.

"We're always open for suggestions," he added. "We get a lot of criticism when we do something, but we also want people to come up with solutions."

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

Expenditures under the revised 2017 budget:

Police: $3.28 million

Road & bridge: $2.28 million

Parks & rec: $1.39 million

Cuts made mid-year to 2017 budget:

Police: $66,000

Road & bridge: $452,000

Parks & rec: $54,000

Current personnel:

Police: 26

Road & bridge: 16

Parks & rec: 5 (plus 6 seasonal)