06/15/2009: "LETTERS ON COUNTY BUDGET CUTS"
The County Council, after six months of negotiations, has signed a four year contract with Local 49 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal employees. The contract gives the represented employees a 1.25 percent cost of living increase, retroactive to January 2009, and another 1.25 percent increase effective July 1st. The contract sets costs of living increases at 3 percent for the remaining three years of the contract.
Contrast this to the fact that the County is in deep debt, income is down, unemployment is at a record high, and the fact that the US Government has notified me that there will be NO cost of living increases for those receiving Social Security in 2009, or for 2010 or the year after that!
This is the first time in seventeen years that the Government has not given a cost of living increase to those on Social Security...yet our County Council, while cutting their budget elsewhere, has given in to the unions once again and increased their pay and the burden on the taxpayers here.
Helen Chapman King
San Juan Island
June 12, 2009
Dear San Juan County Council Members,
The shortfalls in revenue and budget troubles are real. There is no denying that cuts must be made. We recognize that expense portions of most department budgets have been pared back to the necessities and that cuts in personnel are what remains. The decisions you face are difficult and the consequences of the cuts will be felt county wide for years to come. I don’t envy your position.
The concern that I bring to you today is the blatant unbalanced cuts in the workforce. Nearly all of the proposed cuts to personnel are represented (union members) individuals. They represent the backbone of the county workforce and are frequently some of the lowest paid as well.
The budget presentation last Friday to the council by our elected auditor, consisted of various “scenarios”, of which, scenario 4, included a “$31,750 wage reduction of management” and was summarily dismissed by the auditor as “almost having no noticeable effect.” This was an exercise in appeasement by the auditor, expressing that they have indeed looked at “management” reductions. Forgive me, but this is outrageous.
Back in October, when the first round of budget cuts came, there were murmurings from the representative workers about how unfair the cuts were. The county was going to balance the budget on the backs of the represented workers. Here we are again. The newly proposed cuts that we have been made aware of do the EXACT SAME THING. Cut the workers. This will leave our county structure even top heavier that before.
While it is true that life is not fair, you, as our elected representatives, have the ultimate hand in deciding what cuts will be made. What jobs will be lost? Who will be sent away with severance and directions to the unemployment line? We do not seek management cuts for punitive reasons, or for some ultimate goal of fairness. We seek them because it makes sense. If we have less money and fewer workers, we should have less management as well. It would stand to reason that if a department has fewer workers, there would be less for the management to do. Take a good hard look at the budget and department structures and you will see that we are indeed top heavy and with this next round of cuts that imbalance will tip even farther.
I do not presume to know the solutions or best approaches to take in these cuts and I can only imagine how difficult these times are for those making decisions. Here are some items that seem particularly out of line and really ought to be given a hard look. Forgive me if my information is incorrect or flawed, but it is based on the budget information published on the county website.
1. Assistant to the council. There are 6 council members and you have the luxury of 3 assistants. Recently one of them gave notice and is leaving. This is a perfect opportunity to lead by example and not fill the vacated position. Every other county department and employee is being asked to do more with less. One could argue that there are too many duties for just 2 people. I would respectfully submit to you that that argument can be made for all departments.
2. Administrator Pro-Tem. The CD&P director is given $6000 to fill in during the absence of the County Administrator. If this is somehow state mandated, I apologize. It seems like a cut that can be easily made.
3. Public Works. Over the years, public works has transitioned from having a centralized manager to 5 individual managers. While I understand that they have different funds from the county general fund, it is something that is perceived by the workers and the public as yet another bloated government bureaucracy.
4. Information Services. This is probably the most blatant example of unfairness to workers in the face of furthering the cronyism present at the management level. In the October budget cuts, a valuable member of I.S. was let go in order to transfer in and create the position of “webmaster”. The webmaster was originally a “communications director”. Let me remind you that the “communications director” was the one responsible for the October “budget message” meeting communications system. We were to receive a slide show power point presentation in the community theater, with nearly every county employee present. Low and behold, the system was not functioning and the county administrator had to wing it. This abject failure at a crucial and public moment was not punished but rather rewarded with a renaming of their job and bumping out a represented employee in order to retain this person.
Now we are in the business of having an online county newsletter. If a case could ever be made for cutting “non-essential” services, this is it.
5. Information Services. The IS department continues to liberally use the services of a “contract” employee. They are using this person for tasks that should fall to them. We did not have enough money to keep IS at full staff, letting go a valuable worker, yet, they continue to spend money on a contractor. Let me give an example that was brought to my recent attention. A fellow employee in another department recently put in a request to have a computer and telephone moved to another location (15 feet away, different outlets.) Following procedure, they filled out an IS work order. The IS department sent out a regular county worker to move the telephone and the contract worker to move the computer. This is absurd, inefficient, and expensive. I am sure this is not an isolated case
6. Health Department. Community Health provides services to the public that are deemed essential. Look at our organization and look at the cuts being proposed. Cuts are being proposed that eliminate nurses, department assistants, people that inspect septic systems, people that administer vaccines. These are the “essential services”.
7. Community Development and Planning. Here is a department that is unique because of their income source not being primarily from the general fund. Nonetheless, because of declining permit revenue and the county wide budget cuts, they have been hit particularly hard. At the start of 2008, they had 20 FTE’s. (grant funded positions have been excluded from this count.) After this next round of cuts, they will be left with a skeleton crew of 11. The director and deputy director still remain. No matter how you want to look at this, Manager to Worker ratio, management salary per employee supervised, the conclusion is the same. Recently, Island County advertised for a CD&P director, with a job description identical to the one of SJC. The starting salary was $72,000. Fully $20,000 less than ours (now include the $6000 pro tem pay and it’s over $25k.) In fact, reviewing the budget numbers in 2007, that was the level of pay of the CD&P director of SJC only 2 years ago. Times were good, permits were at record levels, and salaries were increased. Common sense, business sense, and logic all would dictate a serious look at reducing the top management pay.
8. Court system. We have courts, they are necessary. Is my reading of the budget correct that the prosecuting attorney receives $132,000 per year, and the coroner receives $96,000? This is the same person. If I am incorrect, I apologize, again, this based only on the budget information published by the county. Courts across the state are shutting the doors for a varied number of days every month or year to cut costs. This is a reality SJC must face as well. The revenue shortfall is so deep that no one will be unaffected.
I understand and realize that the county budget is a very complex issue and there are dedicated funds, special funds, grant funds, etc, all which have their own restrictions.
Let me provide some insight coming from the point of view of a common citizen. The perception in the county is how the public judges us. They don’t realize that road funds are different from general funds. When they see shiny new trucks and hear that the county is broke, they scratch their heads. When they hear the county spent $600,000 to study the solid waste situation and then votes against the recommendations, they scratch their heads.
When we citizens are told the county is broke or on the verge of going broke, then witness land purchases, land leases, buying of new docks, proposals to buy a toxic landfill, they must wonder what is going on. While most of these issues could be explained by the “different piles of money” explanation, it is hard to change public perception. As the county explores the idea of a “levy lid lift”, basically increasing the increase on property taxes, they will need to contend with public perception.
The budget cuts have been likened to “amputation not weight loss.” While this appears to be the case, job loss is inevitable.
I urge you, my respectful representatives, to take the reins, look at the county government organization as a whole, and make some fundamental changes to the management structure.
Lighten the top as well as the bottom. Not in the interest of fairness or appeasement, but for the sake of genuinely working towards the goal of better, leaner, more efficient government.
Thank you for your time,
Friday Harbor, WA 98250