City Administrator Martha Bennett announced on Wednesday afternoon that three city employees will be laid off due to a city budget shortfall.

City Administrator Martha Bennett announced on Wednesday afternoon that three city employees will be laid off due to a city budget shortfall.

The city's full-time code enforcement officer, a three-quarter time building inspector and a part-time Municipal Court clerk will lose their jobs, she said.

"Laying off employees is gut-wrenching, to say the least," Bennett said. "These employees do valuable and often difficult work. They are our colleagues and friends. Moreover, these people have families that depend on them, and in many cases, they have devoted much of their lives to their work."

The three will be paid through Feb. 1, 2009, she said.

In addition to the three layoffs, the city will not hire someone to fill a vacant police officer position and will also leave two unfilled park department positions empty, Bennett said.

Deputy Chief Rich Walsh in the Ashland Police Department has agreed to early retirement and will work half-time for the city to save money, according to Bennett and Police Chief Terry Holderness.

The police department and Ashland Fire & Rescue will cut overtime spending and training, Holderness and Fire Chief Keith Woodley said.

With fewer police officers for patrols, the police department will extend the time frames when minimum staffing is allowed. The department previously allowed a minimum staffing of two police officers to occur only between the hours of 4 a.m. and 10 a.m.

The new minimum staffing period will be from 3 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Ashland Fire & Rescue will see some savings this fiscal year because Woodley is retiring on Dec. 26 and the city will use an interim fire chief until a replacement is hired. A retired secretary was replaced with a temporary worker.

The city is facing a $540,000 budget shortfall this fiscal year because of falling revenues from building permits, restaurant meals taxes, hotel taxes and other sources like electricity revenues.

"We are projecting that city revenues will be less than we anticipated in the approved budget," Bennett said. "We need to make reductions soon because if we delay, we will have to make deeper cuts that affect more employees, more citizens and more services."

The city is halfway through its fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2009.

All city departments will have to reduce spending. Bennett plans to cut spending for police, fire, parks, finance, legal and other departments by 5 percent. The city's utilities, which include electricity and water, will trim spending by 3 percent. All the departments with utilities have been asked to defer capital projects whenever possible. Ongoing projects will be completed.

"This plan is the responsible thing to do, given what we know about the local, state and national economy. We will be even more cautious for the rest of the year than usual," Bennett said.

She said some people have asked her whether this will be the end of the cuts to the city's budget.

"This takes care of it for the rest of the fiscal year — based on what I know now. But if something else changes, we'll have to look at it again," Bennett said.

She can institute the cuts without the approval of the Ashland City Council or Citizens' Budget Committee. City staff can spend less than those bodies authorize but not more.

The City of Ashland is just one of a number of local organizations facing budget cuts due to the economic downturn. The Ashland School District expects less money from the Oregon Legislature and advance ticket sales for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's 2009 season have fallen short of expectations.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.