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West Valley City orders weeklong furloughs for all employees

WEST VALLEY CITY — Mandatory furloughs have been ordered for every city employee in a desperate move to make up a $4.5 million budget shortfall by the end of June.

Each of the city's 920 full- and part-time employees will have to take a week off between now and June 30, according to city finance director James Welch. That includes police officers and firefighters.

The furloughs come as a result of an executive order from city manager Wayne Pyle, who controls the administrative arm of the city. The mandatory time off is expected to save $1.2 million.

"Certainly it's better than a pay cut for the employees. They still get health and retirement, as well as having some time off," said newly elected Mayor Mike Winder. "I think it was the lesser of the evils we were faced with to balance the budget this year."

The city also has instituted a freeze on travel and has cut positions by attrition, but there have been no employee layoffs.

"I feel that is better than a layoff," said City Councilwoman Carolynn Burt. "These are rough times, and we want to keep our employees. These people will still have their jobs."

Departments are trying to organize the unpaid leave to reduce impact on the public, but decreased service levels are probable, Welch said.

"If someone's not at work, they can't do their job," he explained.

City Councilman Corey Rushton said he believes furloughs are the best option. The city is trying to keep up morale among its employees by being more flexible with time off, Rushton said.

"I think we're pleased that we're not going to residents for a tax increase, as governments tend to do," he said. "It seemed to all make sense."

Officials also are making cuts elsewhere, he said. For example, the city has eliminated its budget for watering indoor plants.

The City Council discussed the furloughs during a Feb. 12 strategic planning meeting. Four days later, Winder delivered the city's first-ever state of the city speech.

At the time, he mentioned budget shortfalls but did not mention furloughs. In fact, he touted the fact that West Valley has not dismissed employees.

"Our employees are the heroes that keep the city going in tight times," Winder said Tuesday, "and we want to do all we can to protect their jobs."

Overall, sales tax revenues for West Valley are down about 17 percent, Winder said last week. In January, the year-over-year decrease was $190,947, or about 12.7 percent.