Wage freeze could chill Avon | VailDaily.com

Wage freeze could chill Avon

Matt Zalaznick
Fourth Grade Eagle County Charter Academy students study math Thursday in Peyton Gill's class.

Other than that, however, most Avonites shouldn’t notice spending cuts the economic slump has forced Avon to make, town leaders say. The purse-tightening will likely be costliest for the town’s own employees, as they may not get any raises in 2003.

“The basic government services are going to stay the same as they are,” Town Manager Bill Efting says. “Is it going to take a little longer to plow every street in town? Yes. Will there as a be as many flowers? No.”

The town expects to be about $500,000 in the hole on spending by the end of this year.

Trying to avoid a similar shortfall in 2003, the Avon Town Council spent Tuesday in Cordillera at a special budget retreat. They balanced next year’s budget at $9.8 million by trimming expenses in – among other areas – salaries, donations to nonprofit organizations and late-night bus routes.

“There’s nothing dramatic that people will recognize right off the bat,” says Councilman Mac McDevitt.

The budget for 2003 has not yet been approved. But one proposal likely to pass is an increase in fees people who don’t live in Avon will have to pay to use the town’s popular recreation center. Another proposal is to close the center an hour earlier, at 9 p.m. instead of 10 p.m.

There are only about three people working out at the recreation center that time of night, managers of the facility say.

The town also is likely to cancel some late-night, summer trips on its free shuttles.

The town may cut its donations to the Vail Valley Foundation, which runs the World Cup Birds of Prey downhill competition, and will not give any funding to the Vail Valley Chamber and Tourism Bureau.

The wage freeze for town employees, however, is causing some controversy.

“I’m going to vote against the budget,” Councilwoman Debbie Buckley says. “We need to figure out how to give the staff at least a 2 percent raise,” she says. “Everybody knows how hard it is to live here. It’s not right.”

Aside from her concerns for employees’ wallets, Buckley says she also opposes the wage-freeze because it’s not a spending cut Avon can make every year.

“We need to have a budget that’s sustainably cut. By just freezing salaries for a year, we’re not making the cuts we need to make,” Buckley says.

The council made the decision to freeze wages too quickly at its half-day meeting Tuesday, Buckley said.

“We need to come up with another $100,000 to give the raises. We should have stayed at the meeting and kept working until we found it,” Buckley says.

Both Buckley and McDevitt agreed council members will have to be more frugal in budgeting the town’s spending, even if the financial picture improves.

“I think the budget needs to reflect an economic situation that I think will continue for several years,” McDevitt says. “I hope we have fantastic snow. I love powder days and I’m out there on every one. But we can’t just depend on better weather.”

Buckley says she’s worried a good snow year could cause too much optimism.

“One concern I have is that will have a good snow year and everyone will quit worrying about it,” she says. “We have to plan for a rainy day.”

Whether Avon’s finances improves depends factors out of the control of the Town Council, Efting says.

“The world economy and Mother Nature are going to have a lot do with it. If we get a good snow year, things are going to improve. I’m optimistic,” says Efting. “On the other hand, a balanced budget is the only way to go at this point.”

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

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