EAGLE - Eagle County's work force is going to shrink next year. But how much it will shrink hasn't been set in stone yet.
County department heads are now working to finish their 2010 budgets. Those managers have been asked to cut their budgets enough to trim about $3.3 million from county spending by 2012. That means cutting expenses wherever possible. But, since personnel costs add up to just more than two-thirds of the county's general fund spending, it means some people have to go, too.
County Manager Keith Montag said he hasn't seen the final work from the department heads, but said a combination of expense cuts, layoffs and early retirements will be needed to keep the county's budget out of a deep hole in 2012.
The county's administrators and commissioners have been working since March to come up with ways to trim budgets for the next few years to head off a big crunch coming in 2012 and 2013, when lower property tax values are going to put at least a 20 percent bite on property tax collections.
The theme that came out of a March retreat with the Eagle County Commissioners - held at the Sylvan Lake visitor's center and with just sandwiches for lunch - was "back to basics." Montag said that's been the rallying cry for county department ever since they started work on the 2010 budget.
Montag said the department heads have done great work to find savings. They were originally asked to find savings of between 3 percent and 5 percent outside of spending on employees. But as the magnitude of the 2012 budget hole became more clear, Montag said it became apparent that just cutting costs from office equipment, programs and consultants wasn't going to be enough.
That means cutting people.
"It's not something we take lightly," Montag said.
So what will fewer people and less discretionary county spending look like?
Montag said there may be fewer road-grader trips on the county's unpaved roads. Motor pool vehicles will go more miles before being replaced. There could be longer waits for county services. And the county's spending on community grants - which totaled about $800,000 this year - will be cut "dramatically," Montag said.
"We hope people won't notice most of this," Commissioner Jon Stavney said. "But some of it will."
The most obvious place cutbacks are already in place is with the county's ECO Transit bus system. Even after putting more than $1 million from the county's general fund into the system this year, administrators cut service and raised fares to cover a drop in revenue.
The cutbacks have also already hit Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Teak Simonton's office. Simonton said two people left this year and won't be replaced. In addition, one person has been laid off and is working until the end of this year. Simonton said that leaves her office three people down from the 20 people who worked at the office when former clerk and current commissioner Sara Fisher left office in early 2003.
Ironically, though, the savings from early retirements and layoffs won't hit the county's budget until 2011.
People laid off will receive severance pay and health benefits for a while. The county is also responsible for the unemployment insurance payments people laid off receive.
"We're trying to be really sensitive to the people who are being laid off," Stavney said.
Lewis said he's had two people in his office take early retirement packages. Those people are being replaced.
"So my costs will go up in 2010, but will drop in 2011," he said.
When the layoffs do come, Montag said, he hopes they come over a period of two or three weeks at the end of this year.
"Then we want to focus on the future and continue to provide the best service we can," Montag said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.