GILLETTE — For the first time during an ongoing economic downturn, the city of Gillette has cut staff positions.
The move was announced Wednesday morning and includes a series of layoffs throughout city operations, spokesman Geno Palazzari said in a press release. Over the past few days, the city has laid off nine employees.
“This reduction in force will generate an annual savings of $661,682 in the General Fund,” Palazzari said in the release. “This reduction is in addition to the 22.5 positions that have been left vacant over the past year.”
Human Resource Director John Aguirre said the decision was made for many reasons.
“It was a combination of multiple elements,” Aguirre said. “From the low sales tax revenue to our last attrition, our department heads and city administration had to make this decision and it was a very difficult one.”
Sales tax revenue took a sharp decline during the last fiscal year.
From July 2014 through June 2015, Gillette’s sales tax revenue was $54.1 million. In that same time period in fiscal year 2016, sales tax collections dropped to $37 million, or a decline of about 32 percent.
“We’re being more cautious this year because we’ve never seen these levels before,” Finance Director Tom Pitlick said last week about the dramatic drop in sales tax. “We don’t know where our floor is. Hopefully, we’re already there. But it’ll be a quarter by quarter basis.”
Aguirre said the majority of the layoffs are concentrated in areas where service to city residents would be minimally affected and where the city feels it can most afford to reduce staff.
“The departments that were affected most were the larger ones like Public Works and Administrative Services, and that’s only because those are the larger departments,” Aguirre said.
When asked about the potential for more layoffs should the downturn continue, Aguirre had a hard time answering.
“That’s a very difficult question to answer,” he said. “We sure hope not. I’d like to think we’ve seen our floor. I predict that our June tax revenue numbers will be better than earlier in the year, but at all costs we try our hardest not to make these layoffs, and it was a tough decision to make.”
Although it was a last choice move, the city administration had to make the call, he said.
“It’s always the last thing to consider,” Aguirre said. “And not only do we think about the employees, but we think about their families and the remaining staff who have built relationships with them. We didn’t take this decision lightly.”
By PATRICK FILBIN
Gillette News Record