EVERETT — The city has laid off 81 part-time and full-time employees over the past month.
Early estimates pin lost revenue at $14 million this year, largely from stunted sales tax receipts.
The layoffs were part of a dramatic response to a sudden halt in retail commerce since late March amid coronavirus-related public health concerns. Another 61 people were put on furlough for up to eight weeks. Voluntary separation buyouts were accepted by 56 employees. More than 35 unfilled positions were eliminated.
Several events and services, among them the Carl Gipson Senior Center, downtown hanging flower baskets, Forest Park Animal Farm and the swim center, Fourth of July parade and Music in the Parks, were shuttered through the year.
Passenger ferry service for Jetty Island Days, usually between July 5 and Sept. 7, could be a casualty of social-distancing requirements.
“They’re hard on all of us,” Mayor Cassie Franklin said of the cuts.
City leaders project they’ll slash $3.4 million from general fund labor and maintenance and operations expenses. The general fund pays for most city services and staff, including administration, fire, parks and police. It doesn’t cover enterprise funds, such as the golf courses or Everett Transit.
The president of the public employees union, of which about 400 Everett employees are members, issued a sharp rebuke to Franklin for the staff reductions, which he called “draconian” in a May 13 letter.
“We have worked together in many difficult situations,” wrote Chris Dugovich, president and executive director of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees. “When treated honestly and with respect, our members have always been willing to make sacrifices and collaborate with the City. But the heavy-handedness that was shown by your administration in negotiating the furlough agreement, and the total lack of transparency and empathy demonstrated by Parks leadership during these recent events, make me wonder if we can ever rebuild that trust.”
Parks and recreation saw the biggest cuts: five full-time and 41 part-time employees. City spokesperson Kimberley Cline said the majority of the part-time workers are seasonal, such as lifeguards, swim instructors, in recreation or in maintenance.
The Everett Public Library shed 23 employees, of which 20 were part-time, for services Everett wasn’t allowed to provide anyway under the stay-home order.
The senior center cut six workers, facilities two and one each from engineering/public services, finance, transit and utilities.
Uniformed firefighter and police officer ranks were intact, which Franklin said were needed at full staffing levels.
“There’s just a lot of grief and tragedy in the city, and that leads to a lot of unrest,” she said.
Franklin said the furloughs and layoffs were necessary. With restrictions about which services can operate, per Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, it didn’t make sense for the city to pay for employees whose work wasn’t allowed.
“If we waited three months to make these types of decisions, we would have had to reduce staff even more,” she said.
Even though Everett slashed a few million dollars in labor and maintenance and operations, plus more for delayed purchases and suspended training and travel expenses, a projected $14 million hole this year means further cuts likely are ahead.
“It’s not that we don’t have anything left to cut, it’s that the stuff we’ll have to cut is the stuff we hold dear, and it affects many people,” Councilmember Liz Vogeli said.
In a phone interview with The Daily Herald, Dugovich said the union knows the financial crisis is real. But he was upset with how city leaders handled it.
Initially, the city opened its voluntary separation agreement with a mid-May deadline. That was bumped up to mid-April by March. It rankled union leaders, who said they weren’t able to take the agreement to the full membership for a vote and felt pressured by the threat of even more layoffs if they demanded more time.
“That’s pretty tough to verify everything, get the members involved,” Dugovich said Monday.
Michael Rainey, the Everett union representative since 2016, said he hadn’t been through a layoff process with Everett before this. It came suddenly for union members whose bargaining agreement does not include advance notice of layoffs.
The city “has taken a pretty hard line on these issues, and hit our members in parks and library hard,” he said.
The shifting financial forecast, coupled with the way city management handled the layoffs, has workers nervous, Rainey said.
“We’re bracing for the worst,” he said.
Union leaders asked why seeking a tax lift hasn’t been floated as a way to keep Everett services intact.
During a budget retreat earlier this year, city leaders talked about asking voters for a tax lift. But Franklin said she couldn’t envision seeking more tax money when more than 125,000 people in Snohomish County have filed unemployment claims since mid-March.