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County institutes a hiring ‘chill’

Though not instituting a full hiring freeze, Archuleta County has instituted a hiring “chill,” meaning approval will be required by the Board of County Commissioners before any vacancies within the county are advertised.

In introducing the policy for decision at a Tuesday morning special meeting, County Administrator Greg Schulte said the policy was created in light of a potential revenue loss of $1.87 million to the county in 2012 and with an effort to cut costs in the current year in preparation.

The loss estimate is due to decreased assessed property valuations and, subsequently, lower property tax revenues expected to be paid to the county.

The “chill” policy is effective through the remainder of 2011, Schulte said.

Immediately after voting the policy into existence, personnel from three county departments came forward with requests to fill vacancies.

First up, Schulte petitioned the BoCC to advertise for an administrative assistant.

The position has been vacant since last August, but Special Projects Manager Karin Kohake took over dual duty following the departure of Claudia Smith.

Now that Kohake has taken the position of interim executive director with the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation, Schulte is looking to fill the administrative assistant position and leave the position of special projects manager vacant.

Kohake’s last day with the county is tomorrow, April 29. She begins at the PSCDC Monday.

The BoCC approved advertising the position, with the pay not to exceed $14.77 per hour.

Next, June Madrid presented a request for Treasurer Betty Diller, who was out of town at the time of the meeting.

The position of deputy clerk was recently vacated in the office with the departure of Elsa Lucero.

In presenting the request, Madrid said work in the treasurer’s office is still increasing and that, even though foreclosures are slowing, the office is dealing with an increased number of deeds.

Commissioner Steve Wadley pointed out that, in the small office, one less person would leave a big hole.

Sheriff Pete Gonzalez questioned the commissioners approving the hiring of employees who could potentially be laid off in attempts to thin the county’s budget for 2012, until they know what positions need to be cut.

“Don’t hire people you may have to let go,” Gonzalez said.

Lucero said that the positions were budgeted this year and that the county was working to make solid decisions, adding he didn’t know if the county would be forced to cut positions and saying that the county is still gathering information to inform decisions.

Madrid added that county officials needed to sit at the table and determine what needed to be cut before making decisions such as those that were on the table Tuesday.

Commissioner Michael Whiting added that the county’s work this year is to prepare for next year’s reduction in revenue and that the BoCC needs to trust their fellow elected officials to make decisions on what positions are needed in their offices, even though the inclination is to begin cutting costs now.

Wadley reiterated the fact of an increased workload in the treasurer’s office in light of the bad economy.

Gonzalez stated he didn’t want his point to be misconstrued, but that he wanted the commissioners to remember that the hiring was a commitment of funds next year, as well as this year.

Before the board approved the hiring for the position at no more than $16 per hour, Lucero thanked Gonzalez for his “hard” questions and statements.

Lastly, Carla Elliot, standing in for assessor Natalie Woodruff, asked that the office be allowed to hire an additional appraiser to fill a vacancy.

“Appraisers are vital to a smooth operation,” Elliot said, noting that the office lost one appraiser position in the last budget season and she didn’t think the office could lose another and maintain its efficiency.

Elliot said a staff of two licensed appraisers and one registered appraiser, as well as one in the midst of obtaining a license, are responsible for valuing over 17,000 parcels in Archuleta County.

Lucero noted the decisions were “getting harder” before Wadley motioned that the position be filled at no more than $15 per hour.

Gonzalez briefly reiterated his prior statements before the BoCC approved the hiring and recessed into an executive session to discuss the status of Schulte’s contract, which will renew automatically for one year in July.

randi@pagosasun.com

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