City services will be impacted by employee layoffs
September 8, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Residents may notice more weeds at city parks, longer waits for passports and fewer road projects next year as municipal officials trim expenses by about $7 million.
After months of penny pinching, officials took another dramatic cost-saving step last week when Mayor Ava Frisinger announced the layoffs of 10 city employees.
Employees in the municipal Building, Human Resources, Parks & Recreation, Planning and Public Works Engineering departments received notice their positions would be eliminated. Some of the departments have been hit by a downturn in building construction. Money for the Building Department, for instance, is generated through building permits — which dropped precipitously as construction slowed.
The layoffs followed a hiring freeze and a voluntary severance program enacted by the city. Municipal officials will save about $595,000 next year after seven employees opted for a severance package. All told, the hiring freeze, severance program and layoffs will save the city $2.025 million. About 75 percent of the municipal operating budget is associated with staffing. About one-third of salary costs for city employees are associated with benefits.
City Council members adopted a $109.5 million municipal budget in December.
The layoffs are the first in recent memory related to budget problems. Overall, the size of city staff will shrink by about 10 percent, or 27 positions.
Additional layoffs are “not something we anticipate, but it’s not something we can rule out,” Frisinger said.
Issaquah faces a $3.6 million shortfall for 2009; a similar decline in city revenue is projected for next year. Major sources of dollars for the city — building permits and sales tax revenue — have dropped amid the recession.
Officials have also deferred the purchase of supplies and equipment, and suspended nonessential staff training to save money throughout the year.
City spokeswoman Autumn Monahan said the effects of cost-saving measures have been wide-ranging.
“Every department at City Hall has been affected by the staff reductions, whether it’s been through frozen positions, the voluntary separation or layoffs,” she said.
Monahan said cuts were made in order for the city to maintain essential services, such as police and utilities, at adequate levels.
But the cuts will impact other city services. Frisinger said city workers would cut park maintenance and road projects to save money. Residents could also notice longer waits for passports at City Hall.
The pace of large-scale projects will also slow, though the long-planned Interstate 90 Undercrossing will be unaffected. Officials are re-evaluating other projects to see if costs can be curbed.
Frisinger is due to present her 2010 budget to the City Council on Oct. 5. The presentation will be followed by weeks of budget hearings, during which officials will decide what to cut and what to preserve. Council members will adopt the budget Dec. 21.
The mayor said department directors have been vigilant about keeping expenses down as they budget for 2010.
Duties assigned to laid off employees will be reassigned to remaining staffers. City leaders took similar steps to redistribute the duties assigned to vacant positions and employees who opted for the severance.
Frisinger said factors such as seniority and workload were considered as officials decided which positions to eliminate. Though the last day of work for laid off employees will be Sept. 15, Frisinger said the employees would continue to be paid through the end of September, and their medical and dental benefits will continue for three months.
Employees who received layoff notices were offered counseling and career transition help.
The layoffs came a week after the city hosted a reception to honor seven employees who opted for a severance package. Frisinger described the mood at municipal buildings as somber and serious as employees were notified Sept. 3.
Layoffs, Frisinger said, were “not a choice we wanted to make.”
What to know
Several city departments will operate with fewer employees as a result of layoffs, vacancies and a voluntary severance program. About 10 percent of the city workforce — or 27 employee positions — has been cut. The following departments were impacted:
Parks & Recreation, staff reduction of seven
Building, staff reduction of five
Issaquah Police, staff reduction of three
Planning, staff reduction of three
Public Works Engineering, staff reduction of three
Executive, staff reduction of two
Finance, staff reduction of two
Human Resources, staff reduction of one
Public Works Operations, staff reduction of one
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.