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Town puts parking staff on furlough

Parking enforcement suspended; three are off the job — for now

BRATTLEBORO—The town has furloughed three employees in the Parking Enforcement Department and a fourth employee has returned to the Recreation & Parks Department.

Members of the Selectboard and town staff provided that news during an update on the town’s response to the pandemic at the April 7 board meeting, the second of what will likely be many online meetings since Governor Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order took effect.

Town Manager Peter Elwell informed the audience that most town employees are working their full hours. A few employees’ scope of work had shrunk, and their managers had shifted them to projects that are difficult to complete during busier times.

Elwell stressed that although the three parking enforcement officers won’t receive a salary during the furlough, they remain employees of the town and will receive health insurance and other benefits related to their employment. The furlough began April 10.

He added that the employees will qualify for the expanded unemployment benefits and the extra $600 weekly stipend provided by the federal government.

As a municipality, the town does not pay into the state unemployment insurance program as do most employers.

Instead, the town has the option to purchase private unemployment insurance. If a municipality lays off an employee, the former employee still applies to the state for unemployment. The state then bills the town for reimbursement.

According to Elwell, the town does not purchase this insurance because it rarely has layoffs. But under the national COVID-19 response, the town will need to reimburse the state for only 50 percent of the employees’ unemployment benefits.

Given the circumstances, Elwell said it was in the “collective best interest” of all to have “a limited number of furloughs.”

The Parking Fund is an enterprise fund, meaning its purpose is to generate revenue for the town.

But as a result of the pandemic, the fund has not been generating money.

In March, the town suspended parking enforcement and made all parking in town free in response to COVID-19 concerns.

Elwell said the fund will likely end this fiscal year in a $100,000 deficit. The fund has enough money that the furloughs and delaying some maintenance work in the parking lots could “contain the deficit.”

He thanked Sally Nix, the town’s human resources director, for her guidance and expertise during the upheaval.

The town established her position two years ago at Annual Representative Town Meeting. Nix joined the staff last May.

“Having Sally on the team in this moment is incredibly important,” he said.

Elwell reminded attendees that town offices remained closed the public.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #557 (Wednesday, April 15, 2020). This story appeared on page A5.

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