Walla Walla County OKs furloughs to save money

WALLA WALLA -- A resolution to allow two Walla Walla County departments to mandate unpaid days off was approved earlier this month.

The resolution by county commissioners will allow the county's Health Department and Human Services Department to use furlough days as one way to save money in the face of budget cuts.

Commission Chairman Gregg Loney said he and fellow commissioners Greg Tompkins and Perry Dozier were not ordering department heads to implement furloughs, "but it gives them another tool in the toolbox" to deal with cutbacks.

Commissioners considered the resolution last week, but held off approval until they could get more information on the impact of the measure.

The resolution allows health and human services department heads to impose one furlough day per month, starting this month, for a total of 14 unpaid days off through the end of next year.

Other county departments may also look at furlough days as the budget process for 2011 moves forward, Loney said.

"We're building the budget on the assumption that there will be furloughs or wage freezes," he said Monday. "The aim is to prevent layoffs."

The county now is in discussion with four labor unions to try to find some solution "to try and keep people working," Loney said.

When work started on next year's budget, there was a $1.7 million shortfall expected between revenues and expenditures. That has since climbed to about $2.1 million due to projected costs for medical benefits.

The health and human services departments were the first to receive approval for unpaid days off due to deep cuts in state money that form much of the departments' budgets.

Human Services Director Daryl Daugs said last week his department is projecting cuts of 10 to 12 percent in its $2.5 million payroll this year alone. In addition, they are preparing for cuts during the next legislative session of 15 to 25 percent.

County Public Health Director Harvey Crowder said his department also plans to use furloughs.

Crowder said last week the unpaid days off are nearly the only tool available to him.

"We are under-budget and under-spending, but we are also under-earning," he told a reporter.