A projected $2.8-million budget shortfall in fiscal 2010 has town officials thinking in terms of worst-case scenarios.

A presentation to the Marana Town Council on Tuesday, March 24, put forth the ideas of layoffs, reduced services and eliminating employees’ health benefits.

Town officials have already cut an estimated $6.4 million in current and projected expenses.

Local governments throughout the area have braced for potential budget cuts, with many considering layoffs. In early March, Oro Valley officials considered, but ultimately delayed plans to lay off up to 26 town employees.

But with the likelihood of decreased state revenue, Marana is beginning to think beyond the relatively painless fixes.

Town Manager Gilbert Davidson, in his presentation to the town last week, said he wanted to exhaust the possibilities of easy and moderate changes, which he color-coded green and yellow, before considering more painful changes.

“I can assure you green is not going to solve our problem, but it certainly makes a dent,” Davidson said.

So-called “green” changes include increasing bed tax rates and leaving vacant positions unfilled to save money. “Yellow” changes included scaling back on town events, such as Founders Day, and reducing services.

Davidson said the town might have to pull from options in a third, more painful category to reconcile the budget.

That category, which he called the “red” category, includes reducing operating hours, cutting positions and making employees pay the full cost of their benefits.

It also includes reducing employee pay across the board.

The challenge, Davidson said, would be to choose from this third category judiciously, if needed.

“If we have to get here, how do we come up with tools and resources that will help employees if they’re impacted?” Davidson said.

One idea involved giving employees various options — such as furlough days, retirement incentives or voluntary reduction in hours.

Another option to reduce costs, Davidson said, would entail using a portion of the transportation sales tax or the town’s reserve fund.

Mayor Ed Honea advised Davidson to not discount dipping into savings.

“The rainy day fund is there for a rainy day,” Honea said. “It’s raining. The greatest asset we have to give our citizens is our employees and what they provide. Most employees live in the town.”

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