City offers voluntary labor reduction to counter declining revenues

The City of Grand Junction has launched a voluntary labor reduction program as part of ongoing budget-cutting efforts to offset declining tax revenues.

City officials hope enough employees participate in the voluntary program to prevent mandatory layoffs.

“The department directors and I have gone through the budget with a fine-toothed comb and made reductions in departmental expenses that would not significantly impact service delivery to the community. Those reductions were not enough, so we need to look at our labor costs. Labor costs are a significant portion of our budget and those need to be reduced in order to meet our lower revenue estimates,” said Greg Caton, Grand Junction city manager.

The voluntary labor reduction program offers four choices: temporary unpaid leave, early retirement incentives, voluntary separation incentives and a voluntary reduction in hours. Incentives range from one month’s salary to payment of  health insurance premiums for six months to early qualification for a retiree health care plan for those within three years of qualifying for retirement.  Employees have been asked to indicate their interest in taking part in the program by Oct. 17.

In 2010, a different voluntary labor reduction package was rolled out, and 37 employees took part with a net of 29 positions that weren’t filled. For the most part, those vacant positions have never been filled. The 2010 program also included a non-voluntary component for positions in which the workload was reduced.

The city has 635 regular full-time employees — 430 of those who salaries are paid through the general fund. Employees whose salaries are paid through the enterprise fund and fees aren’t affected by the shortfall in sales tax revenues.

Revenues for 2016 are down 4.7 percent from forecasts. The anticipated overall shortfall to the general and capital funds is $2.1 million out of a $75.3 million budget. The city historically has received considerable revenues from severance tax and federal mineral leasing through the state. The totals for those funds were recently announced, and the decrease was even more than anticipated with the resulting severance tax distribution and federal mineral leasing allocated to the city $658,000 less than budgeted.

In addition, the city must allocate $1.2 million each year into a savings account for the early retirement of bonds sold to fund the Riverside Parkway debt. That arrangement, made under the so-called Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights constitutional amendment, can’t be changed unless approved by voters.

For 2016, numerous modifications to the budget as well as protocol changes have been made, including a review of all vacated positions. Most positions haven’t been filled and the positions will be eliminated, creating a $233,000 savings. Capital projects that haven’t been started have been postponed for a $450,000 savings. All non-essential travel and training for the remainder of the year has been eliminated for a $53,000 savings. Spending on supplies, fuel, utilities and information technology has been reduced for a $606,000 savings. The city manager’s contingency fund was reduced for a $60,000 savings. Funds over the minimum reserve of $18.5 million have been returned to the budget for an addition of nearly $700,000.

City officials said revenue projections for 2017 do not look any better.