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Need to cut jobs to balance budget | Letters | Feb. 5
This week I noticed one of those burnished aluminum signs on the sidewalks downtown, one with a map of downtown restaurants and stores. Nice graphics, but who needs a map of a place two blocks long?
The city commissioned these “kiosks” in the heady days of Winslow Tomorrow when money was no object. Like the appetizers at a dinner out, those little orders added up to a big tab.
The city has quit spending money on frills like this, but it has yet to make the big cuts in staffing. This week, the city borrowed money to make payroll, a loan it hopes to repay from grants and the sale of property.
With a $2.7 billion deficit in Olympia, those grants are looking uncertain, and this is the worst real estate market in 50 years. We’re now dependent on the sympathy of strangers, and maybe predators as well.
We have a lot of employees for a community of our size. Fewer people live here than on Queen Anne Hill, yet we have a “judiciary” with five people, an IT department of six and a police department of more than 25. Imagine a “City of Queen Anne” with this many.
We probably need to lay off one-third of the people working at City Hall. Here’s how I get to this number:
1. The city needs to cut operating expenses by $2 million per year or more. We need money for working capital, to repay $3 million owed the utilities, for a rainy-day fund, and to start doing the routine tasks like road repair. At $100,000 per employee, this means 20 people.
2. Now eliminate the subsidy from the utilities. Currently the equivalent of 37 full-time employees bill time to the utilities. A comparable city with nearly four times as many sewer and water customers operates with only 20 utility employees. This means cutting about 17 employees here.
3. Add these together and you get 37 employees, or about a third of the current workforce. Our sustainable payroll for tax-supported activities is probably 80 people or fewer.
Rather than facing up to reality, the old council put a weird “furlough” system in place that traded an unpaid day off now for a day of paid vacation later. Sign me up for a year of this!
This system not only put off the inevitable but is unfair to the employees who will stay, who have been made to carry those who will leave.
I hope that rather than getting into the details of which paper clip to cut here or which person there, the new council will simply give the city manager some general guidance on priorities, tell him how much to cut, and then let him bring back three different options. If they work together like this, they can make this government more effective.