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      City of Conway to lay off 21 employees

      The city of Conway will lay off 21 full-time employees to help balance its budget. Conway's city council approved the cuts Thursday.

      City administrator Bill Graham would not say where the layoffs will occur, but he said they are widespread and will affect nearly all areas of city government, except the police and fire departments.

      In all, the city will be eliminating 25 positions. Graham says four open city positions will remain unfilled. He says the city employs 243 people.

      The owner of Forgotten Times Antiques says he sympathizes with the city and with the laid-off workers, but Conway must do what it has to do.

      "Property taxes are down, nobody's buying business licenses, nobody's building permits, so you've got this smaller and smaller revenue dollars and they've got to cut where they can somewhere," said Ron Pougnaud.

      Pougnaud says he just hopes the city won't have to cut back on the kinds of events that bring people downtown. He says the city cutbacks show the tax impact of a slow economy.

      "You're seeing the effects of what's happened initially with everybody being laid off, hitting your state governments, your local governments, and your county governments."

      The owner of the Park Smith Boutique says downtown Conway will feel the effect of city employees losing their jobs.

      "They shop in our local stores and they eat in our restaurants and I think it's gonna take a toll, it's gonna be a big impact," said Marilyn Smith.

      Despite signs of an improving economy, Smith says business is still slow in downtown Conway.

      "You just hope and keep praying that we're all gonna be OK and we'll get the business in and we get the people to come to Conway."

      The city administrator says for the past two years, the city has cut back on operational expenses, delayed equipment purchases and used reserve funds to balance the budget, hoping to avoid layoffs.

      "But the discrepancy is to the point where we can't continue that course," Graham said.

      While the state and national unemployment rates are dropping, Graham says the city is still feeling the effect of the worst recession in decades.

      "There's a year's lag in revenues," in business fees and property taxes, he said, and the city has not seen enough of a rebound in the economy to make up for the loss of revenue over the past two years.

      "We need to match up revenues and expenses."

      He says the layoffs will save the city about $1.4 million, bringing the city closer to balancing its budget, while not dipping into reserve funds.

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