CG Council looks at furloughs, considers new staff positionCottage Grove City Council members formally discussed furloughing Community Development Department staff at a council workshop last week — and then debated a move that could add a staff member to city hall later this year.
By: Jon Avise, South Washington County Bulletin
Cottage Grove City Council members formally discussed furloughing Community Development Department staff at a council workshop last Wednesday — and then debated a move that could add a staff member to city hall later this year.
The two discussions dealt with differing needs facing the city: one to cut costs in expectation of further declines in tax revenue and state assistance paid to the city in 2010, the other a lack of a human resources-focused city hall employee to deal with staff needs.
The city’s community development department — comprised of nine full-time and one part-time employee — has been the target of early staff reduction discussions, primarily because of its size and the slow housing market, city administrator Ryan Schroeder said.
Facing the possibility of staff cuts, community development director Howard Blin and his staff proposed a plan that would see the department’s employees — with the exception of secretaries — take 40 hours of unpaid leave during 2010.
Blin said with community development already down two staffers from 2007, and a development pace that he says figures to pick up again over the next 18 months, furloughs aren’t desirable.
But the option is preferable over losing a building inspector or city planner permanently through layoffs.
“We’re reluctant to say we can get by with less people,” Blin said.
And Bob LaBrosse, the city’s chief building official, told council members re-hiring an inspector when construction picks up to pre-recession numbers would be a nightmare.
“We’d all much rather take a little time off if that’s what helps,” he said.
Council member Mark Grossklaus has been adamant at previous meetings that staffing cuts would have to come eventually. But he said last week that it shouldn’t be only community development that takes the hit.
During the height of the housing boom the city “paid for a lot of things out of that department,” with revenues from hundreds of new home construction permits per year. Now, he says, “I don’t think the cuts should come from just one department.”
But Grossklaus, along with mayor Myron Bailey and council members Justin Olsen and Jen Peterson, also said they support the creation of a human resources director position that Schroeder said could be in place by early September at a cost of between $22,000 and $28,000 in 2009.
Schroeder said the discussion is part of a routine reevaluation of the city’s staff organization that was spurred by the exit last month of Ron Hedberg, the director of finance and administrative services. Hedberg juggled the dual roles, leading the finance department as well as overseeing staff’s human resources needs.
“Since I’ve been on the council, one of the things that became very clear … is we don’t have a good, in-place performance review process,” Bailey said. “The concern is no one is getting real good feedback on how they’re doing.”
The first-year cost of the position, which would be in 2010, would be between $63,450 and $83,430. It’s an expense that isn’t needed, council member Pat Rice said, especially considering the possible furloughs.
“I can’t tell someone in a snowplow,” Rice said, “’you’re laid off because we needed to hire someone to deal with your benefits that you don’t get because you’re unemployed.’”
Officials said, though, the position could be filled from within. Reorganizing the staff would add the position but not a staff member. That would cut the increase in costs to the city but fill staff’s human resources gap, Bailey said.
Council members directed staff to delay advertising the position until after the city hires its new finance director. Interviews for the vacant position begin June 3.