Tooele County commissioners questioned after more layoffs

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21 2012 4:22 p.m. MST

Tooele County Commissioners J. Bruce Clegg, left, Colleen Johnson and Jeremy Hurst discuss business at a meeting in Tooele on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012.

Devon Dolan, Deseret News

TOOELE — Revenue shortfalls have led to rounds of layoffs for Tooele County employees, and county leaders' actions are falling into question.

The county's financial issues started when the last weapon was destroyed at Deseret Chemical Depot in January and, subsequently, federal money stopped coming in. The county now has $23 million to work with for 2013 compared with $27 million in 2012 — a $4 million shortfall.

County layoffs began in August, when 22 county employees were let go.

Then in September, county commissioners asked department heads to cut at least 15 percent from their budgets. The cuts resulted in 22 more layoffs.

"We had some idea, but we didn't know how deeply we'd have to go," Tooele County Commissioner Colleen Johnson said Tuesday.

One former employee who voluntarily retired said he saw the county's revenue decrease coming years ago.

Harry Shinton, a former member of the Tooele County sheriff's hazardous materials division, said he decided to retire early after devoting 38 years to the county.

"I voluntarily retired because I didn't want to bump a single mother who was a patrol sergeant," Shinton said. "I wouldn't do that.

"There were red flags three years ago, and the commissioners have taken no action to increase revenue," said Shinton, a grant writer. "All they've done is cut, cut, cut."

County commissioners say they chose those cuts over a tax increase. In fact, the county hasn't raised taxes since 1987.

The sheriff's office, particularly the county jail, was among the first to see the impact of the cuts. The attorney's, assessor's and auditor's offices also took financial hits in November.

"With a 260-bed facility, we're limiting the number of inmates we have to about 150," Tooele County Sheriff Frank Park said of the jail.

Park said he hopes to hire more deputies but doesn't know when the county budget will allow for that.

"We, as department heads, are trying to alleviate fears," he said. "But even we have some questions and concerns."

Contributing: Jordan Ormond

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