Vidalia lays off more employeesPublished 12:05am Wednesday, February 20, 2013
VIDALIA — Several City of Vidalia employees across all city departments were laid off Friday in what city officials said was a difficult but necessary cost-cutting decision.
The layoffs come just six months after the city made a number of personnel changes, including laying off 14 employees and asking others to accept pay cuts.
The exact number of city employees laid off Friday could not be confirmed, but city officials were able to estimate the number between 20 and 25.
Alderwoman Maureen “Mo” Saunders said the board was made aware of the final decision by Mayor Hyram Copeland last Tuesday after the city’s monthly board of aldermen meeting.
Copeland did not return multiple phone messages for comment.
“You hate to see a person lose their job, and it was certainly not an easy decision to make, but if the money isn’t there you have to do something,” Saunders said. “We looked over and over to find a different solution, and we held off as long as we could.
“It’s just a sad situation altogether.”
Alderman Jon Betts declined to discuss the specifics behind why the layoffs were necessary for the city, but he did mention it was a necessary decision to make.
“It was a tough decision to make, but those have to be made in tough times, and basically we’re having a tough time right now,” Betts said. “When the money is not there, tough decisions have to be made.”
Alderman Triand “Tron” McCoy also declined to discuss details behind the layoffs, but said the effect of two natural disasters — a flood and a drought — in the past two years has left the city operating at a bare minimum.
“I don’t ever want to get to the point where we’re compromising the safety and security of our citizens, but all of the decisions that were made were for the future and to make sure that we can continue to operate,” McCoy said. “I want the citizens to understand how sorry I am that this happened because this will definitely slow us down, but we’re still moving forward.
“We’re kind of taking two or three steps back to move forward.”
Alderman Vernon Stevens declined to comment and Alderman Ricky Knapp was unavailable for comment.
The city’s 2012-2013 budget included $32 million in expected expenditures, which included $8.2 million in personal services for salaries and wages, insurance and employee benefits.
The 2011-2012 budget allocated $8.3 million in personal services, which included approximately $5.9 million for the city’s 181 full-time employees.
Under the 2011-2012 budget, 22 city employees took home annual salaries of more than $50,000.
Another 36 employees made between $40,000 and $50,000.
The decision behind laying off 14 employees in August was pinned to fluctuating levels on the Mississippi River during the past two years that affected revenues the city received from the Sidney A. Murray Jr. Hydroelectric Station.
The plant, which is located 40 miles from Vidalia, depends on the natural flow of the river and an elevation drop at the Old River Control complex to generate power and electricity.
The city relies on three main sources of revenue to keep the town operating — the hydroelectric plant, sales tax and utilities.
Last week, the board formally adopted an ordinance authorizing the city to take out $6 million in taxable hydroelectric bonds.
The board voted in December to take out the bond to cover city expenses until the water level on the Mississippi River went up so the city could begin collecting royalty funds again from the hydroelectric plant.
Low-water levels last year left the power plant unable to operate at full power, cutting out millions of dollars in royalty funds the city anticipated receiving but didn’t.