WESTBROOK —  The city has furloughed 21 employees and put a hiring freeze in place to offset a drop in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of Westbrook residents with documented cases stands at 15, with one death.

There have been two documented cases of COVID-19 among employees at the Sappi mill. It appears both employees, who have been quarantined, contracted the virus outside of the mill, a Sappi spokesman told the Portland Press Herald.

The furloughs and the hiring freeze will continue for the duration of the state of emergency, Mayor Mike Foley said.

“Confronted with sharp declines in certain revenue sources, specifically auto excise taxes, ambulance fees and recreation programs, the city has to take immediate action to reduce expenses for the remainder of the current fiscal year,” Foley said in a press release last week.

A loss of auto excise taxes and other revenue streams in the fourth quarter could create a $900,000 shortfall if not taken care of now, City Administrator Jerre Bryant said.

“At the end of the fourth quarter that discretionary spending we have available to us is pretty small, and many (other) options don’t exist at this point,” Bryant said.

Most of the furloughed employees work at the Westbrook Community Center and the Walker Memorial Library, both of which are closed to the public through May 15.

“However, there will be furloughed employees from nearly every department of the city,” Foley said. ” These two actions represent 9.3% of the city’s permanent workforce and yield a savings of $325,000 in budgeted expenses through June 30.”

Furloughed employees will be eligible for unemployment and other pandemic related relief programs while they are out of work.

A hiring freeze is now in place for all city departments, including at the Police Department, which has three vacancies and dispatch with one vacancy.

In the meantime, Foley announced that applications for the artist relief fund, provided by the Warren Memorial Foundation, are available on the city site. While applications are available, funds will not be available until the fund sees final approval at the next City Council meeting, which has yet to be set.

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