Sandoval County has asked among employees for volunteers to be furloughed, according to a county press release.

Spokesman Stephen Montoya said some non-essential employees are unable to perform their job duties due to the pandemic. 

“As it is right now, we looked at our finances and we thought the most financially responsible thing we could do is to try and offer furlough for some of those employees because it would be more responsible with the taxpayers’ money and they would be getting paid more in doing that than they would be if they stay on with us at a part-time rate,” Montoya said.

It won’t be clear how many employees volunteer until paperwork is processed, which could take a couple of weeks, he said.

As of May 1, non-essential county employees were being paid in full through the County Emergency Administrative Leave fund, according to the press release.

The voluntary furloughs allow employees to keep their county benefits, like health insurance, while making an additional $600 a week on top of unemployment benefits, according to the release.

This stimulus of $600 per week is being awarded up to July 31.

Supervisors have been alternating employees to perform projects to ensure they are working at least 20 hours a week.

“One of the issues, though, is if we can’t find work for every single one of the employees, they are still getting paid,” Montoya said.

Only costs associated with essential services and personnel are eligible for reimbursement under the federal CARES Act, so the county won’t be able to sustain paid emergency administrative leave long-term for employees who can’t work their full schedule or at all, according to the release.

Employees who meet the requirements of the federal Families First Coronavirus Act qualify for Emergency Paid Sick Leave and/or Emergency Family and Medical Leave as provided in the act, stated the release.

The county has no plans to institute mandatory furloughs, Montoya said.

“We are going to put our faith in our employees to make the right decision during this time,” he said.

According to a draft of the budget, the county predicts a reduction in the general fund by almost $5 million in the 2021 fiscal year, which begins in July, said Sandoval County Chairman Dave Heil in the release. This multi-million-dollar reduction would be caused by a loss of taxable income and an increase of expenses to the county, Heil said.

“Considering this and all the unknowns related to the COVID situation, we may need every penny of our reserves to weather this situation,” he said.

The county commission is avoiding drastic budget cuts next fiscal year and looking at options to sustain compensation for non-essential employees while managing the current budget, according to the release.

Montoya said non-essential employees can expect to be paid during this pay period and have two weeks to assess their situations and volunteer to be furloughed.

“We’re trying to offer them the opportunity to get more payment than what they would normally get instead of having to go into unemployment alone or having to burn through their vacation and/or sick leave,” he said.

County Manager Dianne Maes said in the release that the county is in good financial standing.

Assistant Editor at Rio Rancho Observer