Despite efforts to cut the county budget, it looks like county employees currently on 32-hour work weeks will have to wait until 2003 for the possibility of returning to a 40-hour work week.

“This budget keeps employees on 32 hours for the rest of the year,” said County Manager James Fernandez.

Not all county employees are on a 32-hour week. The sheriff’s department and road department, along with animal control and the transfer station, are still getting 40-hour weeks.

Commissioner Alicia Aguilar pointed out that the sheriff’s department could not be cut for obvious safety reasons.

The 2002-03 county budget had a preliminary hearing on Tuesday in the courthouse with only Chairman Al Padilla and Commissioners Gary Daves, vice chairman, and Aguilar present. Commissioners Helen Baca and Frank Pando were absent. The commission will reconvene Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the courthouse.

“We’ve had a number of people quit because they had to get a 40-hour job,” Daves said. “I don’t think we’ll be able to hire people to come in here on 32 hours. Our budget isn’t getting us out of the hole.”

With the June 14 deadline already past, the budget is now late for its filing date with the State Department of Finance and Administration. Fernandez already filed for a submittal extension and will now ask for a June 25 submittal date.

The proposed budget calls for $2,499,000 in expenditures, compared to $2,477,000 in gross receipts. The $22,000 deficit would be canceled out by a $90,000 cash balance in the sheriff’s budget, Fernandez explained after Tuesday’s five-hour meeting.

The 20 percent increase in health insurance costs accounted for the biggest budget increase.

“This was one of the biggest expenses in this budget,” Fernandez said.

There will be no new purchases in this “bare bones” budget, as Fernandez described it. However, $135,000 was allotted for five new sheriff’s cars, at an estimated cost of $27,000 per car.

“We want to start replacing vehicles, five a year, and then maintenance costs will go down,” said Sheriff’s Lieutenant Gary Hall.

Looking at full-time law enforcement salaries, last year’s salaries totaled $852,173, compared to $834,516 this year.

The sheriff’s department can operate on this budget but, Hall pointed out, deputies can go to Albuquerque and earn more than the starting wage rate of $10 per hour in Valencia County.

“Right now, for the same job, you can be hired in Albuquerque at $13 an hour,” Hall said.

The county currently faces lawsuits, many stemming from relatively inexperienced officers, Hall explained. However, Sergeant Richard Perea hopes those costs can be cut with better training than the proposed budget allows.

“The training will help us out in our liability cases,” Perea said.

The sheriff’s department is not the only department dealing with the budget crunch.

“Right now, my department is about a week-and-a-half behind on data entry,” said Valencia County Clerk Tina Gallegos. “The 32 hours has put a strain on our staff.

“Looking to 2004 and the next presidential election, we are going to need some voting machines,” Gallegos said.

A federal mandate requires the county to go to ballot imaging, and the present equipment must be updated.

Gallegos estimates the equipment update would cost $55,000 to comply with the mandate and be operational for the November general election.

In the Property Assessments Department, Assessor Beverly Gonzales’ staff has dropped from 25 to 19, which includes several people taking early retirement.

“These employees have been here more than 20 years,” Gonzales said. “One is going to Wal-Mart. He doesn’t want to leave, but 32 hours is hurting his retirement.

“This is the only county in the state to cut an elected official’s salary,” Gonzales said. “I am a single mother, but that’s my problem.”

Gonzales said she has already taken another job to make up the difference in her hours.

In addition to the departed employees, a certified appraiser and map maker have made plans to leave, too, and, Gonzales said, no new applicants have applied.

These positions require not only expertise, but on-the-job experience and training, Gonzales explained.

What’s your Reaction?
Bruce Warren