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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

More cuts in street department may mean extra city layoffs

Spokane's 2011 street budget was slashed by $1.5 million on Monday in a move that may mean extra city layoffs.

The Spokane City Council voted 4-3 on Monday to shift $1.5 million in street money to the city's rainy-day fund where it could be used to reward departments with unions that made requested concessions.

City Councilman Steve Corker suggested the cut to help cover the cost of maintaining police and fire jobs. The city's fire union recently ratified concessions that will save the city about $700,000 next year. But to save all the jobs called for in the agreement, the city needs closer to $1.4 million. A similar situation will occur in the Police Department if a tentative deal with the Spokane Police Guild is approved by members this week.

The union that represents Street Department workers, Local 270 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, hasn't made the concessions asked for by Mayor Mary Verner. Council members said they wouldn't have targeted the street budget had the union cut a deal.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she is "disappointed" that Local 270 had not made concessions.

"The concept is we have to be as fair as possible to not reward those who are not coming to the plate," McLaughlin said. "It's appropriate to now look at the areas where our hands are being forced."

About half the city's workforce is represented by Local 270, but most of its workers are in utility departments not facing layoffs. The street department is an exception.

The street department already is scheduled to lose 14 jobs next year. It's unclear how the department would deal with an extra cut. Some members of the council said they first learned of the proposal the same day as the vote.

City Budget Director Tim Dunivant said that because of street reserves, the decision only would require additional street department cuts in 2011 of around $800,000.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref said the street cut was premature because the city still doesn't know if the guild will ratify its deal.

"If it's a strategy to engage union participation, it's coming too late," Waldref said. City administrators say its probably too late to negotiate new concession deals with unions in time to prevent layoffs.

Dunivant said there probably would be enough in the rainy-day fund to cover the extra needed for fire and police concessions in 2011, but it would use up most of what remains.

Supporters of Corker's proposal said they didn't want to use all of the city's remaining rainy-day fund and that the street department was the most logical place to find the money.

"Streets don't eat. Streets don't have families. Streets don't read books," said Council President Joe Shogan, referencing the unpopular plan to close the East Side Library. "If people care more about streets than fire or police, give me a call."

But Councilman Richard Rush said it is foolish to cut streets when the city already is struggling to propertly maintain them.

"We can hardly afford to fall further behind in our public infrastructure," he said.

Had all the city's unions agreed to concession deals, officials planned to use reserves and new taxes -- possibly a vehicle tab tax -- to prevent layoffs. But with most of the city's unions unlikely to reach deals, many City Council members say they're unwilling to create a new tax.

Corker, Shogan, McLaughlin and City Councilman Bob Apple voted for the street cut. Rush, Waldref and Councilman Jon Snyder voted no.

Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt joined The Spokesman-Review in 2004. He is the government editor. He previously was a reporter who covered Spokane City Hall, Spokane County government and public safety.

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