September 11, 2010 in City

Spokane asks employees to forgo raises

Mayor says OK would cover quarter of $12 million shortfall
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said Friday she wants city workers to give up their pay raises next year to help balance the city’s budget.

Officials say there is a $12 million shortfall in next year’s budget and that without union concessions, the city could be looking at more than 100 layoffs.

In a news release Friday, Verner said the city could save $3 million if employees give up their scheduled pay raises for 2011 and make changes to their health plans. The rest of the gap would be closed using reserves and other budget cuts.

In previous interviews, Verner has said she is not depending on raising fees or taxes beyond the usual 1 percent increase in property taxes to make up the gap. However, the City Council, which has the final say on the budget, is considering a downtown parking tax.

Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270, the city’s largest union, said the group is waiting for more firm numbers before deciding its direction. Local 270 is part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“We’re more than willing to sit down and talk with them about what needs to happen,” Cavanaugh said. “We have a lot of people at risk.”

Spokane police Detective Ernie Wuthrich, president of the Spokane Police Guild, confirmed that the mayor made the request to give up pay raises to employees before making it public. He declined to comment further.

But earlier this summer, Wuthrich said he doubted the guild would reopen its contract for concessions. The group didn’t get a raise this year, but was given an extra 52 hours of vacation. Next year, guild members are scheduled to receive a 4 percent raise.

Justin Bingham, president of the Spokane Prosecutors Association, said his group, which has 12 members, already is in negotiations with the city.

He said administrators and workers share the same goal but may disagree on how to achieve it.

“The true aim of this is to keep as many employees as possible,” he said. “We’re trying to work it out. I don’t know if that’s going to be feasible or not.”

Meanwhile, state agencies are bracing for budget cuts that would begin Oct. 1, and will find out Thursday just how deep they will be. That’s the day the state will receive the latest economic forecast, to which the general fund budget is tied.

This summer, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered department heads to prepare possible cuts to their budget for different scenarios ranging from 4 percent to 7 percent. This week she signaled next Thursday’s forecast is likely to contain bad news and she’ll be ordering cuts “on the higher end, not the lower end” of that range.

And that’s just for the biennium that ends June 30. A new budget cycle begins on July 1, and as a first step in assembling that budget Gregoire will propose a spending plan in December that could contain another 10 percent reduction.

Meanwhile the state and its labor unions are in the middle of negotiations for new contracts and many state employees are taking one day a month off without pay. Voters will have a chance to repeal some of the temporary taxes that legislative Democrats narrowly passed in April to help balance the budget, and reinstate requirements for supermajorities for future tax increases.

Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this report.


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