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Nonessential RR city staff face furloughs

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The City of Rio Rancho is starting furloughs that affect 15% of employees because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

City spokeswoman Annemarie Garcia said 112 employees would either be unable to work altogether, or see their work hours cut.

Employees whose duties were entirely or partially deemed nonessential under state executive orders were put on paid administrative leave for the nonessential portion of their work after the public-health emergency declaration March 11.

“My objective then – which is the same today – was to keep all employees paid for as long as possible,” Acting City Manager Peter Wells wrote in a memo to city staff members.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has extended business closures and stay-at-home orders through April 30.

“There is a high probability that similar limitations will continue through at least early May,” Wells wrote.

Because the city couldn’t justify or afford paid administrative leave indefinitely, he continued, it ended at the close of business on Friday. To receive some amount of pay through May 1, affected employees can use sick, vacation or comp time; use paid-leave provisions under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act if eligible; be approved for leave without pay; or any combination thereof.

Starting May 2, employees with nonessential jobs will be furloughed until further notice, according to the memo. They’ll maintain their job status and the city will pay the employer and employee portion of health insurance premiums until they can return to work. The employees will then need to repay their part of the insurance premiums through payroll deductions.

Wells hoped to end the furloughs sometime in May and said every action would be taken to avoid layoffs.

The city also announced its budgeting for decreased revenue next fiscal year.

The fiscal year 2020-21 budget Wells has proposed prioritizes public safety and infrastructure, as well as increasing cash reserves in case COVID-19-related revenue declines are worse than projected. The fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30 of the following calendar year.

The city will take public comment and vote on it in May.

In the executive summary of the proposed budget, Wells recommends budgeting for a 14% decrease in gross receipts tax revenue due to the pandemic and holding in reserve more than $15 million – three times the state requirement – in case the decline in income is worse.

The general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year involves just more than $64.1 million in revenue and almost $59.6 million in expenditures. Seventy-eight percent of costs relate to personnel, and 48% of general fund income is from GRT, Wells wrote.

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