A rebounding economy has prompted Santa Maria officials to end a city employee furlough program and to even dole out raises.
The Santa Maria City Council decided this month to discontinue the mandatory days off in 2014 — the first year without the forced, unpaid time away from work since 2009.
Furloughs have affected 550 full- and part-time city employees — all except emergency services and public safety — since 2010, when employee groups first agreed to take time off to save the city money, according to city spokesman Mark van de Kamp.
City Hall and the Santa Maria Public Library were closed the third Friday of every month plus one extra day in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and the number was reduced from 13 days to 10 in 2013, van de Kamp said.
The forced closures saved the city more than $1 million in operating costs per year.
He said employee groups agreed at the end of each previous year to continue the program.
“The difference this time around was the council’s intent was that when the economy had improved enough that they would end the program,” van de Kamp said.
The council also approved cost-of-living adjustments for city employees, with a 2 percent raise beginning this month and another 1 percent in July. That hasn’t happened since 2009, either, according to van de Kamp.
He said city officials and employees could decide to bring furloughs back in the future, since Santa Maria’s economy hasn’t rebounded at the same pace as other parts of the region.
Besides recent years, the city also employed the furlough program in 1994 and 1995.
“I can’t forecast what the City Council decision will be a year from now,” van de Kamp said. “We’re keeping a close eye on the economy. We are not out of the woods.”