Commission plans vote today; most positions are in public safety
Spokane County will eliminate more than 150 positions from the payroll next year as commissioners struggle to cover expected shortages in the general fund and other sources of money.
With a budget resolution due for a vote this afternoon, commissioners turned down pleas Monday to spare some criminal justice departments from some or all the cuts. Most union employees who remain will get cost-of-living increases, although many will be required to take furloughs, or unpaid time off.
“You could give up a small percentage of your salaries if you want to save positions,” Commissioner Mark Richard said.
The largest job losses will come from the departments that are mostly or completely supported by the general fund, where about 115 full-time equivalent positions will be eliminated in an effort to trim $13 million in expenses. The rest of the cuts will come from departments that are supported by special fees or taxes. The cuts have been the subject of months of discussions among the commissioners, other elected officials, county department heads and union employees. But Monday, members of the prosecutor’s staff made a final plea to save the jobs of seven attorneys, most of whom handle misdemeanor cases in Spokane County District Court.
“There isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate everyone is facing hard times,” said Andrea Duggan, of the prosecuting attorney’s bargaining unit. “You’re looking at an overworked body that you’re asking to overwork more.”
Richard wasn’t swayed: “Most every department in this county is overworked.”
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he can’t eliminate deputies in patrol cars, so he’ll have to trim or eliminate special operations such as the drug unit. Some of his districts already are down to a single patrol officer.
“It’s not that we’re trying to point you into a corner, but the green and white (patrol cars) are first, and everything else is next,” Knezovich said. “Public safety, that’s the primary function of government.”
The county is facing the worst economy since the 1930s, commission Chairman Todd Mielke said. “I continue to be concerned when I hear from county employees that it’s not as bad as we think it is,” he said.
Marshall Farnell, the county’s chief executive officer, said the county’s non-union employees will give up raises next year, but most union employees declined to open contracts and reduce wages in negotiations with individual bargaining units. Many opted instead to take days off without pay, and some county offices will shorten the hours they are open to the public to handle the workload with fewer people.
Most union county workers will get cost-of-living adjustments between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent, and still have relatively low costs for benefits, Farnell said.
“In the private sector, none of that’s happening,” he said. “As dire as that budget sounds, they ought to be thankful.”