Budget woes force Arlington layoffs

ARLINGTON — Two key people at City Hall were laid off Tuesday morning, and city officials expect another five employees will lose their jobs this month.

“This layoff is strictly for budgetary purposes and is in no way a reflection of the dedication and commitment these fine individuals have given to our organization over the many years,” said Mayor Barbara Tolbert in an announcement to city employees.

After the round of layoffs, this city of nearly 18,000 people will be served by 130 employees, down from 160 in better times, assistant city administrator Kristin Banfield said.

“All small cities are going through this,” Banfield said. “We’re the last in the chain to make the recovery in economic downturns. Right now we’re looking at a $700,000 deficit in 2013.”

Tolbert said the layoffs are not something that anyone wants.

“The continuous downslide of the economy has hit our sales tax collections considerably over the years,” she said. “And there appears to be little end in sight.”

In 2009 and 2010, the city exhausted its reserves to help keep jobs, Tolbert said. Most city employees live in or near Arlington, Banfield said.

At the end of 2011, the city closed the gap on a potential $2 million deficit through unpaid furlough days and salary sacrifices made by all employees, Tolbert said. The city also increased utility taxes that secured some additional revenue for the city.

Earlier this year, the City Council chose not to place on the ballot a request to raise the sales tax by 1/10th of 1 percent to fund police and fire service.

“Council has made it clear that they would prefer to look internally first to cut costs,” Banfield said. “So that’s what we’re doing. The mayor said we are done with doing more with the less; we have to change how we do business.”

Tolbert directed staff to restructure the city’s organization from top to bottom.

“The realignment will help us succeed in the long term,” Tolbert said. “We hope to accomplish the realignment with the least possible disruption to the lives of our employees and their families.”

Laid off Tuesday were community development director David Kuhl and administrative assistant Sherri Phelps. In addition, the police department is operating with three fewer officers, the fire department is down one firefighter and both departments have bare-bones administration, Banfield said. The city’s parks and recreation program is bound to take a hit in the realignment process, she said.

“Without our volunteers, the city would really be hurting,” Banfield said. “We have a lot of things going for us and we are trying to remain optimistic that things will turn around and we can possibly bring some of our employees back.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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