An unexpected budget crunch prompted the city of Sandpoint to make cutbacks this week, starting with the termination of its economic development director.
Susan Johnson, a former city councilwoman, was appointed to the post last May. She earned $32,900 as director of the business incubator, a center that helps new businesses get started.
City Council members voted this week to eliminate her job as of March 1. The council also took $10,000 from the recreation department, police and fire departments and city clerk’s office.
“We were looking at $30,000 to $35,000 in cost overruns and I basically went hunting for money,” said Mayor David Sawyer.
“I don’t foresee other cuts. We have an emergency fund, but I don’t want to dip into that when we are only 15 percent through the budget year.”
The cutbacks won’t mean any loss of services for residents. Department budgets will be reviewed again in June, but Johnson’s post was eliminated permanently. The assistant at the business center and other city employees will take over Johnson’s duties.
Johnson was unavailable for comment. Her appointment last year as director was opposed by Sawyer, who then was a councilman.
But Sawyer said the council’s decision to eliminate her job was purely financial, not personal.
“We made a move based on fiscal soundness for taxpayers,” he said.
Only Councilwoman Sue Haynes voted against eliminating Johnson’s job. She agreed there are serious problems with the budget, but Haynes wanted more information before cutting any staff members.
Councilman Michael Boge said Johnson’s position was redundant. Other employees already were handling part of the business center operations for less pay.
“It was strictly a budgetary move. Instead of getting to the end of the year and having real problems, we wanted to deal with it now,” Boge said.
Most of the city’s overruns, about $27,000 worth, were in maintaining the new City Hall and buying new office equipment. The new building also has heating problems and may not meet handicapped accessibility codes. Those items could be expensive to fix, Sawyer said.
“We had a ballpark figure for operating the new City Hall, and we ended up hitting a foul ball,” Sawyer said. “But given what we have done so far, we won’t be looking at a deficit.”