Noah Haglund Herald Writer
Snohomish County leaders have been warning that budgets would get difficult, but big layoffs or cuts to public services weren’t widely expected until next year.
That changed Thursday, when the county laid off 15 employees as part of an unplanned reduction of its 2,800-person work force. The layoffs, in the county’s Department of Information Services, should save about $2 million in salary and benefits through the end of 2011, officials said.
“Taxpayers are counting on us to make wise choices during this national recession,” Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said in a press release. “We can’t afford to wait until the end of the year or allow the deficit to widen.”
The county has been struggling with declining revenue since 2008.
In April, a $50,000 performance audit by Seattle-based Moss Adams reported that a lack of communication among political leaders was hampering operations of the Department of Information Services, which oversees the county’s computers and printing. That audit focused on management, not expenses.
Treasurer Kirke Sievers wondered how the cutbacks would affect other county employees who rely on the department’s technical savvy.
“We’re really tied at the hip so to speak because if the computers go down during tax season, we’re stuck,” Sievers said. “If those people aren’t there, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
The president of the largest union for Snohomish County workers said he was disappointed to see jobs lost after the County Council has repeatedly declined to raise property taxes by the 1 percent allowed.
“I think that’s a reasonable thing to look at,” said Chris Dugovich of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “The county employees have made sacrifices and we’ve done our share. Others need to pitch in.”
Reardon’s proposed 2010 budget included 15 unpaid furlough days, but the version the County Council passed had five. Unions declined to accept any unpaid days off, so in April, county leaders ordered a 2.6 percent budget cut for all county departments.
County Councilman John Koster said the 2010 budget that passed last fall was “unsustainable,” and that the government shouldn’t be asking taxpayers for more money during an economic downturn. He also said the message he’s heard from county workers about furloughs is different from the one coming from union leadership.
“I ride up and down the elevator with employees,” Koster said. “Every time, they have told me they would much rather have furlough days than to see people laid off.”
The layoffs affect front-line employees, mid-level supervisors and top managers, mostly in positions paid by the county’s general fund, said Reardon’s spokesman, Christopher Schwarzen. Information Services will now have about 85 employees.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.