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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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2011 Spokane budget limits layoffs

Fee increases, union concessions help preserve city services

What started out as 71 city of Spokane layoffs has dwindled to only a couple.

In September, Mayor Mary Verner announced that 71 employees would lose their job the day after Christmas to deal with the city’s $13.6 million budget shortfall.

A combination of union concessions, retirements and attrition allowed some workers to keep their jobs and others to move into open slots. Those changes left only about five people who will be forced out of a city job. Of those, all but a couple are eligible to retire.

Verner called the final budget “a success story.”

“We have a budget that retains almost every service,” she said in an interview Tuesday. Until the city’s fire union agreed to concessions, the city was considering the closure of a fire station. Until the Spokane Police Guild followed suit, 35 police officers were scheduled to lose their jobs.

Still, the budget includes a 17 percent increase in wastewater fees and nearly wipes out what remained of the city’s rainy-day fund (the city still has other reserves that aren’t as flexible). The sharp increase in rates led City Council members Nancy McLaughlin and Bob Apple to vote against the budget.

“I’m afraid that we will be breaking people’s backs,” McLaughlin said during budget discussions on Monday.

Divisions funded by taxes that didn’t have unions taking concessions were slashed by 9 percent, including the Street Department. Units that made concessions were cut by 3 percent.

Joe Cavanaugh, president of Local 270 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the city has worked with the union to help find openings for laid-off workers.

The union is the city’s largest and didn’t agree to concessions. Cavanaugh said the union had a plan that would have saved just as much but that Verner wouldn’t budge. City leaders responded that in such a dire year there wasn’t much room to negotiate.

“I’m just very concerned that anybody is without a job at this time of year in this economy,” Cavanaugh said. “I’m not happy at all that it’s reached this point.”

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