Avon employee raises remain in jeopardy | VailDaily.com

Avon employee raises remain in jeopardy

Matt Zalaznick

Facing a $500,000 cash shortfall this year, the Avon Town Council Tuesday cut its budget by approximately 18 percent – or almost $2 million – to pass its 2003 spending package. Only Councilwoman Debbie Buckley voted against it because, she said, it didn’t include salary increases.

“I did that because I felt like I needed to take a stand for the employees,” Buckely said. “But I think we’ll probably reopen discussion of the budget after the new council takes their seats.”

The new Town Council will be sworn in at a special meeting Monday evening. The council will then elect a new mayor to replace Judy Yoder, whom term limits prevented from running for reelection this fall.

Councilman Mac McDevitt, who was also reelected Nov. 5, voted in favor of the budget, but said he feels bad about not giving employees raises.

“I am satisfied except for the issue of not giving raises to the town employees,” McDevitt said. “There’s some chance we might be able to make that up, but it looks unlikely.”

State regulations forced the Town Council to adopt its budget by Dec. 15. Both Buckley and McDevitt say the Town Council is likely to review the budget several times next year.

“There’s not a lot we can do at this point unless a couple things fall our way, but we’re going to review it, probably month by month,” he said. “The budget can be amended, and if we can come up with some slick idea, we’ll change it.”

Councilman Brian Sipes also voted for the budget, though he called it “unsustainable.” That’s because the Town Council can not leave raises out when it passes its 2004 spending package, Sipes said.

It if does, he added, the town would likely see an exodus of its employees, he said.

“The main thing we have to realize is the budget reflects where we are today – things could change for the better or for the worse and we always have ability to amend the budget,” Sipes said. “Things could slide downhill if we go to war and people stay away. Then we’d have to make further cuts.

“But if things go good,” he added, “the first things we have to address are the non-sustainable cuts.”

Employee raises are at the top of that list, but should sales-tax revenues increase, the town should reconsider making a contribution to the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau, Sipes said.

The town was giving the organization –which is mainly supported by its business members – $25,000 a year, but dropped that donation to balance this year’s budget, he said.

“It’s not necessarily a mistake because I don’t think we were getting $25,000 worth of value back,” he said. “But the the town is funded by sales and if we’re not out helping businesses succeed, it’s sort of a downward spiral.”

The town also has to figure out a way to be less dependent on the ski slopes and the sales tax they attract, Sipes said.

“We have to work on long-term things to create a more sustainable budget,” he said. “We need to look at things that will prevent us from being at the whim of whether or not the snow flies.”

But the snowy start to this ski season is one good sign in Avon’s hazy economic picture, McDevitt said.

“The snow could change the equation in a lot of areas,” he said. “We just have to wait and see.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.

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