County mulling workforce furlough

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El Paso County officials are considering a one-week, non-paid furlough of all non-essential employees to help make up an unanticipated $4.1 million budget shortfall.

Such a move could affect about 770 employees who do not work in public safety or health and human services, or 35 percent of the county’s 2,329 full-time workers.

The furlough is only one budget-trimming option being considered. County commissioners are expected to discuss the options during their regular meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday on the third floor of the county administrative office building, 27 E. Vermijo Ave.

County sales tax collections and recording fees are substantially below projections, so officials must cut $4 million worth of expenses during the next two months.

Tom Zwirlein, chairman of the Accounting and Finance Department at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs said the furlough would mean a loss millions of dollars to the local economy.

Initial losses would come form lost wages, which Zwirlein estimated to be at least $600,000.

Then, there are the secondary losses from workers spending less money.

“It’s taking disposable income out of people’s pockets,” he said. “If you’re not working for a week, that might mean not taking the kids to McDonald’s. You’re not eating lunch, and you’re going to put off buying new snow tires. And, that’s not even counting the county services we’d lose for a week.”

County Commissioner Jim Bensberg said that he is aware of the pain that a furlough would cause, especially during the holiday season, but said that state mandates leave few options.

“The rules are the rules,” he said. “The state constitution mandates that we bring in a balanced budget on Dec. 31st, and there are consequences for failing to follow the law.”

County employee furloughs to supplement budget shortfalls are common, said Jackie Byers, research director for the National Association of Counties in Washington D.C., but they’re usually spread out over several months.

Given El Paso county’s two-month, budget-cutting timeframe, Bensberg said it’s impossible to spread out the cuts over a longer period.

“We gotta do what we gotta do,” he said “And I don’t see where else we can cut, but we’ll see all the options on Thursday.”

Commissioner Sallie Clark also lamented the fact that few alternatives remain.

“It’s nobody’s fault. It is what it is,” she said.