Feb 11, 2016

Commissioners put freeze on all Park County hires

Park County commissioners have implemented a hiring freeze, requiring that no one be hired — even to fill existing positions — without their approval.

“No additional employees, period, end of story, and if you need to replace somebody that’s currently hired, you’ve got to come before us,” Commission Chairman Tim French summarized of last week's decision.

The freeze is an attempt to be proactive as the county government braces for a drop in funding for the next budget year, starting in July. Commissioners fear they’ll have to trim spending by 15 percent or more. Those cuts, which follow smaller cuts in recent years, would be harder to make if the county intends to keep all of its current employees; their wages and benefits make up around 43 percent of the county’s $26.6 million budget this year.

“I think every department should be looking at ways to tighten things up, because we’re headed into some pretty tight times,” said Commissioner Lee Livingston.

Commissioners said they’d much rather lower their personnel costs through attrition — that is, by not replacing employees who leave the county — than by letting people go. They urged the county’s other elected officials and department heads to think hard about what full-time, part-time and temporary positions are really needed before filling those jobs.

“Business as usual is no longer here in Park County and we have to make significant, detrimental changes,” Commissioner Loren Grosskopf said before the Feb. 2 vote. “We don’t have any choice.”

If the county’s departments are unable to come up with enough cuts and reductions on their own, commissioners could face tougher-than-usual decisions.

“Is it making the public wait a little bit longer in the treasurer’s office, or does that mean the sheriff doesn’t have anybody to run detention?” Grosskopf asked rhetorically. “I mean at some point, this could be a real slippery slope to determine what’s a critical need.”

French voiced similar concerns.

“It’s going to be, ‘well, is the sheriff’s guy (or) gal more important than your nurse? Is the nurse more important your assessor out there in the field?’ How far do we want to go?” he asked.

“I think that’s what we’ve been asked to do by the people of the county,” Commissioner Lee Livingston responded. “It isn’t going to be easy.”

Park County Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Cramptom received the commission's blessing to fill a vacant position. Cody News Co. photo
The first hire to be considered under the freeze — replacing a nurse who left the public health department — received commissioners’ approval after some questioning on Feb. 2.

Park County Assessor Pat Meyer said the county’s property tax base (and, in turn, property tax collections) will likely sink to 2006 levels. Meyer described it as something that can be worked out and noted the county has had big drops in revenue before.

“The hiring freeze is fine,” he said. “I just don’t want us to jump the gun too much.”

Livingston saw the freeze as simply the way a business should be run. If you have a need and the money to fill a position, you do it; if not, you don’t, he said.

“I think every department should be looking at ways to tighten things up, because we’re headed into some pretty tight times,” Livingston said.

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