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Most Government Workers Wouldn’t Lose Jobs

Question: Would the new government need fewer workers than now are employed by the city and county? If so, who would be terminated?

Answer: There’s little research on the matter.

In Lexington, Ky., the public works department went from 600 workers the year after merger to 400 workers 10 years later. The director said the reduction couldn’t have happened without consolidation.

In Georgia, employment grew after the city of Athens consolidated with Clarke County. Officials there blame the increase on population growth and state and federal mandates that local government provide more services. They contend government would have grown even more if not for the merger.

Spokane’s proposed city-county charter promises that rank-and-file employees will not lose jobs the first two years after consolidation.

That promise isn’t extended to department heads. The elected executive would decide which of those high-level employees would keep their jobs.

A recent study commissioned by the economic development group Momentum concluded that the government could operate with 110 fewer managers and management support staff.

However, the new government likely would need more police officers to increase patrols in the Valley and other suburban areas.

Q: Would the government use the county’s salary scale or the city’s?

A: Since the charter promises wages won’t be cut, the government would have to use whichever pay scale is higher for any given department. In most cases, that means county workers would get raises to match the city scale.

In Athens, most county workers got raises, and payroll rose $2.3 million.

Q: What happens to city and county retirees, who are on different pension systems? What happens to current workers who are on different pension systems now, and retire later?

A: Government can’t get off the hook for paying benefits. But that’s about all that’s certain because the charter doesn’t address the issue.

County employees are covered by two retirement systems run by the state. Public Employees Retirement System I stopped accepting enrollees in 1977. Its replacement, PERS II, is not as generous as the original.

The Spokane Employees’ Retirement System, which covers city workers, is similar to PERS I.

In a report to freeholders, James Bennett, city retirement director, recommended the new government keep all three systems. New employees would have their choice of the three, but probably would pick the city system.

“This option would not result in new costs to the new city-county,” he wrote.

Capping membership in the city retirement system could be expensive, Bennett said, because enrollees help pay the benefits of people who already have retired. The city would have to make up the difference.

Q: I like smaller government. Would consolidation make government smaller and more efficient?

A: Opponents contend a single government would have more bureaucrats and be less responsive than several smaller governments serving the same area. For that reason, the same group that favors forming a new city in the Spokane Valley opposes consolidation.

Proponents say consolidation would eliminate a layer of bureaucracy.

Academics who have studied consolidated governments elsewhere are split on the matter.

If “smaller” means closer to home, then it depends on where you live.

The new government would be run by a council with 13 members elected by district. Seven of those council members would represent areas either entirely or partially outside the current city limits, so people outside the city limits would have far more political representation than they get from the three county commissioners.

People from the city would have six of the 13 districts, giving them less political clout than they have with the seven-member Spokane City Council.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: SECTION = THE PUZZLING QUESTION OF CONSOLIDATION