News

County: 16 more layoffs

by AMANDA WINTERS
Sequim Gazette

Another round of layoffs hit 16 employees of Clallam County on Tuesday afternoon as county leaders were unsuccessful in negotiating concessions with the county’s largest union in an effort to finish closing a $2.4 million budget gap.

 

The Clallam County Board of Commissioners also voted to declare a financial exigency and reduce work hours for employees in the Teamsters union to 37.5 hours per week.

 

“We tried,” Commissioner Mike Chapman said at Monday’s work session, looking visibly exasperated. “Lord knows we tried.”

 

Chapman, who is on the county’s bargaining team, said they were asking everyone from County Administrator Jim Jones to the county’s janitors to share in the sacrifice.

 

The bargaining team proposed the Teamsters union members forego their cost of living adjustment for one year and take 16 unpaid furlough days, in exchange for no layoffs in their union for two years, Chapman said.

 

“I want you to know from my heart what I was trying to do,” Chapman told the crowd of 80-plus at the commissioners’ Monday work session. “I am beyond frustrated that 30 good people will lose their jobs this year.”

 

The bulk of the layoffs went to employees in the county’s Roads Division, which already was looking to make drastic cuts.

 

County Engineer Ross Tyler told the commissioners Monday the department may need to cut snow plow services on weekends to save on overtime costs.

Layoffs

Jones said the layoffs are as follows: eight positions in the Roads Division, two in the Auditor’s Office, two in Health and Human Services, one in the Department of Community Development, two in Parks, Fair and Facilities, one-half position in juvenile services and one-half position in the County Clerk’s Office.

 

Fifteen county employees already received layoff notices effective Nov. 30.

 

Commissioner Steve Tharinger said not only are people losing their jobs but those being cut to part-time are losing their health benefits.

 

The county’s labor attorney, Akin Blitz, said the bargaining with Teamsters and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association unions did not result in concessions.

 

“I was utterly disheartened by the implication in that (budget) summary that the deputy prosecutors association was in any way responsible for the breakdown of the county-wide bargaining process, and consequently, the layoffs that are now occurring,” County Prosecutor Deb Kelly said in a press release.

 

She said the bargaining unit initiated contact with the county bargaining team and as the countywide budget picture became increasingly fluid and complex, the unit continued to assure the county that it remained committed to bargaining and to reaching agreement for budget reductions.

 

As of Tuesday morning no agreement was made.

 

Jones said the other six county unions protected themselves from layoffs through tentative agreements.

Blitz also said the county likely would be challenged in court if it implemented furloughs without full union agreement.

 

The commissioners previously considered shutting down the courthouse for 16 days next year to furlough employees across the board, except for 24/7 responders such as Sheriff’s deputies.

Revenue loss

Tharinger said the county was able to save money when the economy was good and that is why it had been able to maintain services and avoid large layoffs.

 

“We’re not here because we mismanaged the county,” Chapman said. “We’re not here because the union contracts are too extravagant. We’re here because we used to get $2.2 million in bank interest and now we get $200,000. Do the math.”

 

Due to extremely low interest rates, which are not likely to rise at all until mid-2013 at the soonest, and increased bank fees of $170,000 a year, a major source of county revenue is gone, he said.

More cuts

Jones proposed other cuts, including reducing all car allowances from $400 per month to $100 per month and asking all salaried elected officials and department heads to move back one step on the county’s pay scale, which is a 2.5-percent cut in pay.

 

“I will join my colleagues as part of the county’s management and leadership team and move back three steps from where I otherwise would have been, accept the car allowance reduction and personally shoulder the full 10-percent reduction in my compensation, which I have proposed,” Jones said.

 

He also recommended the commissioners put a one-tenth of a percent sales tax increase before the voters before making further cuts in public safety services.

 

The 2012 budget comes before the board for approval Dec. 6.

 

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