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Committee recommends cutting city furlough days

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Roswell City Manager Joe Neeb asked members of the city’s Finance Committee to “take a leap of faith” in recommending dissolving six remaining employee furlough days.

Committee members Jason Perry, Jacob Roebuck and Margaret Kennard took that leap, voting 3-0 to recommend the proposal for the full Roswell City Council consent agenda at its Jan. 14 meeting. Councilor Juan Oropesa was absent from the meeting.

Items on the consent agenda will be considered in one vote unless a councilor requests an item be removed and placed on the regular agenda.

In its fiscal year 2021 budget, the city planned for 10 furlough days — one pay period — spread throughout the year as part of a $31 million cost-cutting plan, expecting the coronavirus pandemic would drastically reduce the city’s gross receipts tax collections.

Collections are down compared to previous years, but not as much as the city anticipated.

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From the first month of the fiscal year in July through December, the city has collected $17.6 million in GRT but budgeted for $12 million. That, along with a greater than expected response to a voluntary city employee severance offering, prompted the city to drop the furlough days from July to October. No furlough days were scheduled in November and December.

Neeb said the savings from furloughs would be about $160,000 a month — but the voluntary severance program’s success has created some need.

“We actually had planned on having 30 individuals leave at the start of the year. We had 46. And so our whole system has not been operating. We need all hands on deck in order to continue the work that we are able to accomplish now,” he said.

Removing the remaining furlough days would also remove potential variables in the remaining 2021 budget as the city prepares for next year’s budget starting in February.

“We believe the money is there in order to cover these furloughs. I’m asking you to take a leap of faith with me and remove all six months at this point in time. I believe if we have trouble by the end of the year, we have other alternatives that we might be able to go into in order to hold costs in check. I want to keep everybody working,” Neeb said.

Perry, the committee chair, had expressed reservations about eliminating all six furlough days at the December City Council meeting but said Thursday he felt more confident about it now.

But Perry also said the city needs to be careful considering the trend in GRT. 

Collections have been on a slight downward trend from July’s $3 million. December’s distribution, which was from business activity in October, was $2.7 million.

Anticipating an easing of the pandemic and restrictions on business and activities, the city budgeted for a $487,000 jump in GRT collections in January and reaching historically normal collection levels by June.

“I don’t want us to get too confident on the market right now and confident on GRT,” Perry said. “I don’t want us to get too excited about having $5.5 (million) extra. That may be necessary come May or June to make the budget work, so we’ve just got to be very careful,” he said.

The committee also voted unanimously to forward several other items to the full council:

• A contract with Creative Bus Sales, Albuquerque, to purchase two buses that would seat 10 people and have space for two wheelchairs for $221,459. The city budgeted $192,448 for a minivan and 23-passenger bus. Transit Director Becky Hicks said wheelchair users are now using larger wheelchairs that minivans and the ramps cannot accommodate. The smaller buses also do not require drivers to have commercial driver’s licenses, which will make hiring drivers easier, she said. The goal is to eventually replace the city’s transit fleet with the smaller buses, she said.

“We had taken a trip down to Carlsbad and saw their entire fleet of buses is all the same and that makes it so much easier for them to do maintenance. They have plenty of space for the people they’re handling. They are very similar to us in size and the number of passengers that ride,” she said.

• A contract with Wagner Cat of Albuquerque for a 2021 Caterpillar 420 backhoe at $128,841 to replace the backhoe at the cemetery. The cemetery backhoe has a blown engine that was using a gallon of oil a day and had a crack in the boom, or the part that digs the hole, Hicks said. The cemetery is using a backhoe from the water department, but its boom is smaller and takes more time to dig the graves to the proper depth and width. The boom is also more rounded and cannot dig a square hole.

“Employees have to get down in that hole and square it up before the vault can be installed. That is a problem because that is against OSHA” (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, Hicks said.

• A resolution issuing tax-exempt bonds to reimburse the solid waste collection fund for the $1.2 million purchase of a new compactor for the landfill. The city approved the purchase in December. The 10-year loan will have a 2% interest rate.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.