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Dane County requesting 'voluntary' furloughs as part of budget repair package amid COVID-19 pandemic

Dane County requesting 'voluntary' furloughs as part of budget repair package amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Dane County is asking employees to take “voluntary” furloughs as part of an evolving package to balance a government budget battered by the coronavirus-spurred economic slowdown, and it’s directing department heads to plan for budget cuts next year of between 2.5% and 5%.

Letters were sent last week to all 2,500 county employees asking them to take between eight and 80 hours of unpaid time off this year, and as an incentive the county is offering an extra paid vacation day to those who opt to take the full 80, with a prorated number of vacation hours for those who take less.

While no one is being forced to take unpaid time off, Greg Brockmeyer, the county’s director of administration, notes in a Wednesday memo that if the federal government doesn’t approve a fiscal relief program for local governments and the county isn’t able to save enough through voluntary furloughs, “the county may be forced to implement other measures.”

County Executive Joe Parisi said the county is projecting a shortfall of between $20 million and $25 million in its approximately $594 million operating budget, about $68 million of which was expected to be made up of sales tax revenue. With most stores forced to close under the state’s “safer at home” order, however, sales tax revenues are down, and local governments, unlike the federal government, are required to have balanced budgets.

Parisi did not have a figure for how much the county hopes to save by instituting the furloughs, which are similar to a program implemented 12 years ago during the Great Recession, but they will be part of a package of budget changes that already includes a hiring freeze. County employees are supposed to indicate by May 20 whether they will take furloughs.

In a Monday memo, Parisi is also asking all county departments but public health and the Public Safety Communications Center to prepare budget scenarios for next year that assume 2.5% less in county general purpose revenue for smaller departments and 5% less for larger ones.

“Put simply, this budget will not be like the past several budgets county government experienced where the primary decision points resided in how much additional funds should be allocated and to where they should be invested,” he wrote. “This budget will look more like spending plans county government managed in the midst of the national Great Recession of a decade ago.”

Parisi is also directing departments not to propose any new spending for buildings or other capital projects.

Dane County currently has a reserve fund of about $43 million, or about 9% of the county’s general fund.

The city of Madison and Madison School District have so far resisted furloughing employees such as library workers, custodians, and security and crossing guards whose jobs would seem to depend on people using the public buildings that are now closed. Both have instead chosen to redeploy workers. Until last week, Dane County was doing the same, such as by having employees of the county-owned — and currently shuttered — Alliant Energy Center doing extra cleaning and maintenance.

School District spokesman Tim LeMonds said Monday that “as of today, there are no plans for furloughs.” He did not respond to a question about what district security guards and building custodians are doing.

Mary Bottari, chief of staff to Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, did not immediately respond to an email asking if the city was planning to announce staff furloughs. Rhodes-Conway has already announced actions including a hiring freeze on all positions with exceptions for essential services, additional review and approval for seasonal hiring, and a halt to purchasing of all nonessential supplies and services

The state Department of Workforce Development estimated last month that some 725,000 people across 48,000 private establishments are out of work due to the pandemic and that the unemployment rate was nearly 27%.

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