The Spokane County Engineering and Roads Department laid off 13 engineering technicians Tuesday for lack of work.
Perhaps three more professional staff layoffs were pending, subject to discussions with union officials, county Engineer Bob Brueggeman said.
Brueggeman said the layoffs are driven by an across-the-board reduction in capital projects, but especially the completion this year of a 26-year project to replace septic tanks with sewer connections in the Spokane Valley.
Tuesday’s layoff of construction inspectors and project designers is effective Oct. 17. The cuts represent 5.5 percent of the department’s 236-member workforce and affect employees who have been with the county as long as 22 years.
Brueggeman said he expects the downsizing to be permanent although he is optimistic that a sidelined $66 million project to widen Bigelow Gulch Road will get back on track in 2013.
That project is on hold while state and federal officials iron out problems in the county’s right-of-way acquisition procedures.
Even if that work resumes, “there’s no new money coming in for future transportation facilities,” Brueggeman said. “All things considered, we’ve got more people than we’ve got work for.”
He said next year’s construction schedule so far is limited to a few sidewalk and trail projects and replacement of a deteriorated bridge over the Little Spokane River, near the Wandermere Golf Course.
The work is expected to cost about $12 million; in recent years the department might have overseen projects totaling about $40 million in a typical year.
A $3 million tax-increment-financing project to build roads and utilities for a West Plains development might help, but progress is slow because of difficulty in raising money for a centerpiece aerospace museum, Brueggeman said.