City postpones worker layoffs

Finance Committee to discuss alternatives to trimming employees

Posted: Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Juneau Assembly changed the city's direction - at least temporarily - Monday night, voting five to four to postpone employee layoffs until after meeting as the Finance Committee to discuss possible alternatives to the measure.

"I'm very concerned we have not as an Assembly gotten down to looking at possibilities of ways to deal with the budget before ... laying off people. ... We have not addressed the whole budget. I'm understanding the situation that we're putting the manager in ... but we should have a chance to look at the budget and see what areas can be trimmed, cut, whatever," said Assembly member Jonathan Anderson, who made the motion to postpone. "I can not let this go by without the Assembly - without us stepping up and saying 'This is what we're doing or not doing.'"

At the Finance Committee meeting last Wednesday, the Assembly expressed support for the idea of dipping into the $9.3 million rainy day fund and into tobacco tax revenue to address the multimillion dollar projected deficit, but postponed more detailed discussion until after the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association members' vote, tallied on Friday, of whether or not to accept the city's requested one-year deferral of a contractually scheduled three percent pay increase.

Eighty percent of voting union members rejected the offer, and City Manager Rod Swope said Saturday he would move forward quickly this week in laying off between eight to 10 employees, the stated alternative to the postponement.

The Assembly had previously backed that course of action, leading many of them to express conflicted feelings Monday night.

Assembly Member David Stone described himself as "torn."

"We did go down this path, and give the manager support," he said. "We as a group said one thing... when we waffle, which we do on a lot of things, it puts him in a precarious position."

"He (Swope) explained things carefully," said Deputy Mayor Randy Wanamaker. "There are no surprises for us here."

One surprise, said Swope, might be the union's decision.

"I think they (the Assembly) were expecting a different outcome, and they're now faced with a difficult decision," he said after the meeting.

MEBA Alaska Representative Ben Goldrich, who attended the meeting as an audience member, said afterward that he was glad of the city's decision and that he is confident the city can come up with more ways to save money.

He also reiterated statements after Friday's union ballot count that it is the city's decision to extend union negotiated raises to non-union members as well.

"We have always extended that," Swope said. "Whether there's a big increase or a deficit and layoffs, we have treated them all the same."

Not extending the raise to non-union members would make a difference of about $600,000, he said.

Assembly member Bob Doll said he was impressed with how the budget deficit, decreased by cuts, is "a moving target," but added "We're making this choice to lay off these people without having compared that to anything else we can do ... I think it's incongruous to be adding the expense of operating the Valley pool, but at the same time we're laying people off. Those two don't match."

Assembly members Anderson, Jeff Bush, Ruth Danner, Doll and Johan Dybdahl voted in favor of postponing the layoffs until they consider other options in the Finance Committee.

Assembly members Merrill Sanford, Stone, Wanamaker and Mayor Bruce Botelho voted against it.

Stone said the Assembly will find as soon a date as possible for the next Finance Committee meeting in order to expedite the discussion.

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