By Michael Howell
Unless something changes before the county budget for FY 2014 is adopted, the Ravalli County Commissioners are going to cut the Road Department to the bone. What could change things is if the federal government decides to re-authorize the Secure Rural Schools Act.
The county depends upon SRS funding for much of its road operations. The federal money that comes into the county under the Act is split between the Road Department and the schools. Two thirds of the funds go to the Road Department and one third goes to the schools. Last year the county received about $770,000 in SRS funds. This year, without congressional renewal, the county may receive nothing.
According to Commissioner Ron Stoltz, with gas tax revenues down and the potential of no SRS funds, the county cannot afford to maintain the labor force at current levels. As a result the plan is to cut five or six jobs in the road department. At least five of those jobs will be machine operators. At least one and possibly two administrative assistant jobs are also on the chopping block.
Stoltz said that if the SRS Act is not funded the county may return to the original funding formula in which the county would receive about 20% of the revenues generated by the Bitterroot National Forest.
“That would mean about a $700,000 reduction in the Road Department budget,” said Stoltz. “We are not taking it all out of the labor force,” he said. “We are trying to reach a balance between money for materials and the labor needed to apply it.” He said the workers who are being laid off will be hired back to work in order of seniority if more funding is authorized.
The budget also calls for placement of security cameras throughout the Road Shop building. Commissioner Greg Chilcott said that the cameras were needed for “security reasons,” although he also stated that there had not been any thefts. He called it a general security concern.
“We do it in our other buildings,” said Chilcott. “We have cameras in the hallways at the Courthouse building.” He also stated that they were getting one story about how something happened at the Road Shop from one employee and then getting another conflicting story form other employees.
“At least this way we will have a chance to at least see what happened, even if we can’t hear it,” said Chilcott.
A Road Department employee who requested anonymity said it was all just part of the commissioners’ continuing efforts to break the union. According to the employee, the plan for the new security cameras includes cameras in the lunchroom.
“What’s that all about?” the employee asked.