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SF councilors extend furloughs, discuss face mask ordinance

The Santa Fe City Council discussed furloughs and a proposal requiring people to wear masks while out in public at its meeting Wednesday night. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Workers for the city of Santa Fe will continue to face furloughs for the first part of the fiscal year, but at a much lower rate than before.

Santa Fe city councilors on Tuesday night approved the resolution, which will take effect July 10. It authorizes furloughs that apply to nearly every employee for four hours per week, while department directors and management will have reductions of six hours a week. Some employees, particularly those in public safety, will not have furloughs.

The plan is meant to remain in effect as city officials work to complete a spending plan, likely by late July.

“It allows us to continue trying to make up for the shortfall,” Councilor Chris Rivera wrote, referring to the city’s budget.

Last week, city officials provided councilors with multiple options for reductions in pay, including pay cuts or furloughs. Some employees, particularly those in public safety, will not face furloughs.

In total, the city expects to save more than $800,000 as a result of the plan approved Wednesday.

“I want to acknowledge how hard this is for everyone,” said City Manager Jarel LaPan Hill to councilors.

The Furlough Bridge Plan, as it is called by city officials, will replace the first round of furloughs, approved by councilors in April.

Under that plan, which will end June 30, many employees received furloughs of 16 hours a week and others had their hours cut by four.

Some city employees, as well as union representatives, criticized the plan for unfairly impacting lower-paid workers, some of whom had their pay cut by as much as 40%. Those working in parking and tourism mostly had longer furloughs.

Although the previous furloughs divided councilors right down the middle, the city’s governing body voted unanimously in favor of the new furloughs.

Councilor Roman Abeyta said pay cuts were not an option, adding that furloughs make it easier to restore an employee’s previous salary.

“(Employees) prefer furloughs,” Abeyta said. “I think that’s something we need to take into consideration as we move forward to the tougher task, which is gonna be submitting a balanced budget.”

The decision came as the city braces for an expected $100 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year.

To balance the budget, the city has also decided to sell property and freeze hiring and spending.

City councilors also discussed a proposed ordinance that would require residents to wear face coverings in most situations to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The ordinance, sponsored by Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth, would require those over age 15 to wear a mask while around others in public.

Any person not wearing a mask would be given a written warning on the first offense and would be fined $50 on the second infraction. Appeals could be taken to the city’s Municipal Court.

Several people called into Wednesday’s meeting to voice their opposition to the ordinance, with many questioning whether the ordinance was legal.

Scott Shuker, a teacher in Santa Fe, said any requirement to wear face coverings would likely go unfollowed in a school.

“This measure will be impossible to enforce in a school setting,” Shuker said, adding that many staff members would be reluctant to report students not wearing masks.

The council had not voted on the proposal by press time.

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