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10/13/2009 2:12:00 PM
Layoffs begin for city of Williams
Cuts to save city about $475,000 annually

Patrick Whitehurst
Associate Grand Canyon News Editor

WILLIAMS - Officials in Williams continue to feel the effect of a dragging economy, thanks to weaker than normal sales revenue, leading members of Williams City Council to enact a cost reduction measure during their recent regular meeting Oct. 8. The reduction measures included three full-time layoffs, layoffs for some part-time employees and a reduction in hours for a number of city employees, as well as other cuts, said Williams City Manager Dennis Wells. The dollar savings from the cuts total $475,000, which city officials said they hope will prevent further layoffs from happening in the coming year.

"We had to reduce our workforce by three positions and then we also had to make a number of reductions in part time employees," Wells said. "We don't want to come back in two or three months and go through this exercise again. We're hoping to buy enough time to, hopefully, get to our next fiscal year budget process, which occurs in April and May. It really depends on the economy and our revenues. We do know the severity of the economic downturn leads most people to believe there will not be a quick recovery. This is the third budget reduction we've gone through in 2009. City employees have not had a pay increase in, I think, three years."

One bright spot on the horizon, Wells added, is the Bearizona project that has already broken ground in the Williams city limits.

"Depending on how many visitors they get this next summer, and spring and fall, that will add to our revenue stream in our sales tax area, so we're happy about that," Wells said.

The recent layoffs mark the first time jobs have been cut in the city of Williams for nearly 10 years.

Other cuts included a five percent reduction in pay for all city department heads, as well as a $200 a month cut in pay for all six members of the Williams City Council. Mayor John Moore also took a $200 a month cut in pay. Administrators subject to the five percent salary reduction included city manager, assistant city manager, city clerk, public works director, water superintendent, police chief and police lieutenant.

"All salaried administrative staff were reduced by five percent and city council took a $200 per month cut," Wells said. "The mayor gets a little bit more, but it's $200 across the board. Between the administration salary cuts and the administration salary cuts, it totals $50,000."

"We had an ongoing budget discussion following some revenue drop-offs in our primary revenue source, which is sales tax," Wells said. "The way the city of Williams went about this was a little different than most cities. What we did was get all of our department heads together, Joe Duffy, Susan Kerley and I, and basically explained the situation and then had a work session where we decided and agreed to come up with quite a number of cuts. It was internally generated. I'm very proud of our staff and our department heads for the work they put into this. We have buy-in to the degree that we can have buy-in. It's never pleasant to have to go through a budget reduction this significant. I have to give our staff and department heads a lot of credit. On the city council end, city council also gave us direction to examine other areas and leave no stone unturned, including city council pay and benefits and including administrative pay and benefits."

City council members have met more than once to discuss the lack of city revenue, including a work session and executive meetings during their regular city council meetings. All but one council member voted to approve the reduction in staff during the Oct. 8 meeting. Council member Andrew Hamby voted against the cuts.

"I felt like we could have given more due diligence to other options as opposed to cutting employees," Hamby said.

Council member Bill Miller told those present at the Oct. 8 meeting that he believed the city was in for more economic troubles ahead.

"We haven't seen the worse yet," Miller said. "I'm sure we're going to continue to look at those other options that Andrew talks. Lets just hope we can get through the rest of the year without any bigger hardship than what we're dealing with tonight, with several employees that won't have a job tomorrow."

Council member Don Dent said that, while the cuts were not easy, they are necessary.

"We did spend three hours in a work session Tuesday night going through this. This pretty well cuts every department in some areas," Dent said. "I think it's misleading to state that there were any other options, because there is no capital outlay in our budget. It was done a long time ago. If there were any cuts other than these they would have been done. These needed to be done."

Council member Frank McNelly said administrators met numerous times with city staff to determine how best to make cuts should the local economy fail to improve.

"Hard working people work hard. They appreciate their jobs and I know the city workers are those hard working people that appreciate their jobs. Council appreciates every one of them and this was not an easy deal, especially with the people we had to lay off," McNelly said. "I think this is the right move to make. It's not pleasant, but I think we're doing the right thing."

"When I was elected mayor we had the biggest snow storm we'd had in years, and we had to deal with that, and then we had a forest fire and we had to deal with that, and now we've got this situation with budget cuts, which I don't suppose we've ever had. I can tell you this stuff is stressful," Moore said.

Other council matters

Council members also talked about preparations for this year's snow removal season during their regular Oct. 8 meeting. One item on the agenda was also removed from the evening's business, after Williams resident Bob Dean asked that city staff remove his name from the Bob Dean Rodeo Grounds. Dean was to receive a certificate of appreciation for his years of service to the city in organizing rodeos for the area.

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