Voluntary furloughs help keep San Juan County afloat

San Juan County will rely heavily on its employees taking time off without pay to keep expenses in check over the remainder of the year.

In a unanimous decision, the County Council on Tuesday tentatively endorsed a mix of spending reductions designed to erase a nagging $266,000 shortfall in this year's general fund. Fixing that shortfall was left for another day when the council approved the 2010 budget late last year.

The council will weigh in with a final decision at a June 29 public hearing.

According to Auditor Milene Henley, all departments that draw support from general fund, which totals $13.5 million in 2010, were asked to trim expenses by 2 percent in order to achieve the $266,000 target. Voluntary furloughs, which total $95,221 across all departments, account for more than one-third of the combined spending reduction.

The general fund covers the bulk of day-to-day county expenses, including payroll.

"A good number of departments solved their reductions almost completely by furloughs," Henley said.

But not all.

In fact, the Sheriff's Department has none. The department instead cut 2 percent out of its budget by lowering the portion earmarked for adult detention -- meaning jail expenses -- by $68,825. Although it came in under budget a year ago, Henley described the reduction in adult detention as a "fingers crossed" type of budgetary move.

Budget-wise, Henley noted the county is better off than it was at this point a year ago. The council authorized a mid-year budget cut of nearly $1 million to keep its 2009 financial plan afloat and was spared, largely because of a property-tax hike approved by voters in November, from slashing nearly $1 million more out of this year's budget. Henley noted that programs and positions funded by the voter-approved Proposition 1 were off-limits in achieving the 2 percent spending cut.

Though lowering expenses by 2 percent will balance the budget, Henley believes more work must be done before the county is on firm financial ground.

"It's a temporary solution to a long-term problem," she said.

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