City Hall

More than 30 Layoffs Coming to City Transportation Department

By Erica C. Barnett June 20, 2011

After her general-fund budget presentation this morning, city finance director Beth Goldberg turned specifically to the city's transportation department, which---much like the Department of Planning and Development, which relies heavily on user fees---is facing much tougher budget challenges than the rest of the city thanks to shortfalls in gas-tax and street-use revenues.

In all, SDOT will have to cut an additional $2.9 million in 2011, on top of the cuts it has already made this year. Those cuts include spending less on bike trails, greenways, and bike parking racks; the elimination of vacant positions; and reductions in spending on consultants and tech upgrades.

Of those proposals, by far the most controversial was a decision to cut 31 employees on "reimbursable" work crews---crews that do things like tearing up the street for phone lines, for which the city is subsequently reimbursed by the phone company. Thanks to the economy, Goldberg said, there's less of that kind of work to go around---hence the need to cut more than 30 workers.

However, council members questioned whether simply slashing positions now was the best long-term solution, given the urgent need for street maintenance citywide (and the likelihood that the economy will improve). Additionally, htey noted that the city anticipates making almost $20 million next year from the sale of the "Rubble Yard" property on Aurora Ave. N. to the state of Washington---money that could be used to retain those 31 employees, whose layoffs the city anticipates will save it about $1.6 million.

"One of the issues we have is street maintenance. [Why can't we] put the crews to work on other street maintenance projects?" council president Richard Conlin asked. "It would preserve the jobs, keep them employed, and avoid having to go through a rehire process." Goldberg responded that the work the crews are currently doing isn't the same as filling potholes or repairing torn-up roads. "The work of these street crews is very different from the work that you've described," Goldberg said. "It's not a matter of taking these crews and shuttling on to, for example, pothole repair."

Conlin persisted: "I'm not just talking about potholes. It seems like there's other street maintenance that could be done. I appreciatedĀ that there are other issues that maybe I don't understand here, but I'm not sure that I agree with the SDOT proposal unless I understand it better."

However, Goldberg said that most of the 31 employees Conlin wanted to discuss keeping on the payroll have already been given notice or laid off, some of them effective June 1. If the council decides they want to keep them, Goldberg said, SDOT "would presumably need to staff back up again."
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