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City enacts layoffs, cutbacks in face of virus

Saturday, April 4, 2020
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Leader file photo

The city of Ruston estimates a loss of as much as $700,000 in monthly revenue due to limitations placed on restaurants, theaters, large-group gatherings and businesses statewide in an attempt to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The city of Ruston is laying off all of its part-time employees and contract workers, furloughing 21 employees and cutting pay for others in light of the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus.

The measures are effective Monday. Almost the entire city workforce of about 300 people will feel the impact of the changes.

“Due to the anticipated drop in revenue from sales tax, which I believe will be well over 50%, we’re taking some pretty significant measures to offset the potential loss in revenue,” Mayor Ronny Walker said Friday. “Everybody from the latest person who’s been hired to the person who’s been here 36 years is feeling this, including elected officials.”

The city’s fire and police departments will continue as they are now because those departments are considered essential functions.

Walker said the realignments are the hardest thing he’s had to do since becoming mayor in 2015.

The plan is scheduled to be in place for up to 90 days, but will go on a month-to-month basis, depending on sales tax income, the mayor said.

Though the city has other funds, some are earmarked and others cannot legally be comingled. Most of the city’s payroll is funded through sales tax.

The mayor estimated the city will lose as much as $700,000 in sales tax income per month because of limitations placed on restaurants, theaters, large-group gatherings and businesses statewide in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

Louisiana remains under a stay-at-home order until at least April 30. One of the effects is a huge loss of potential sales tax revenue — money governments count on to help stay afloat.

Walker estimates the employee reduction and pay cuts will save the city between $750,000 and $800,000 over the course of the 90 days.

“It’s the only way to be sure we’re financially able to bring these people back,” Walker said.

The 21 furloughed employees come from departments throughout city government. The workers won’t get paid, but they will retain their health benefits.

“We anticipate our furloughed employees will return to work over the next months,” the city said in handouts to workers.

The furloughed employees can file for unemployment for the furlough period; the city’s personnel office will assist them if they need help filing, the mayor said.

Approximately100 hourly workers will be reduced to a 30-hour workweek. They, too, can apply for unemployment to cover the hours lost.

The water, sewer and electric departments will go to two crews who will work 10 hours a day.

One crew will work Mondays through Wednesdays to help isolate the coronavirus, and the other, Thursdays through Saturdays for the same reason. Workers in those departments will still be on call 24-7 in case of emergency.

Exempt employees — those employees drawing straight salary — will also take pay cuts, but will continue to work 40-hour weeks.

The judge’s office and the marshal’s office, while not technically city departments have also been asked to participate in the scale back, Walker said.

Other changes include banning overtime during the 90-day period and curtailing spending. The only project that’s expected to continue is the renovation of a portion of the sports complex office building into a new VFW Hall and senior center.

Walker said that project would continue because it’s already in the works. The Board of Aldermen is expected to consider awarding a contract for renovation during its regular meeting Monday night.

The rest of the Phase II sports complex work – work that is to be paid for with hotel and restaurant sales taxes – are now on hold.

The personnel changes announced Friday are just part of what the city is doing to combat the coronavirus fallout.

It’s also trying to stop the spread of the virus. Also beginning Monday, employees are asked to take their temperature every morning and evening. If they have a fever, they are to stay home.

The city is also doing away with time clocks in effort to keep employees from gathering in groups. Instead of punching a clock, employees will be given time sheets that are to be returned to their supervisors every Friday.

Despite the personnel changes, Walker said City Hall remains open for business. All city services will continue. Utility customers can still come transact business, though officials are urging bills be paid either online, by check through the mail, or dropped in drop box, so as to limit personal contact.

The personnel cutbacks come only a week after the city enacted new business hours aimed at giving employees an extra benefit — Friday afternoons off.

The decision to do that was made before the coronavirus crisis and was expected to result in only minimal financial savings to the city.

City Hall is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Fridays.