DOT sacks 40 workers

Other agencies face personnel, service cuts

Posted: Sunday, June 02, 2002

Departmental budget cuts and limits on state spending outlined by the Legislature will result in a reduction in services and the elimination of state jobs.

More than 40 employees at the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities received notice terminating their employment with the agency Thursday. Department officials blamed the layoffs on a $6.5 million reduction by the Legislature to Gov. Tony Knowles' proposed budget. Thirteen of the 70 jobs cut from the DOT budget are in Juneau.

The announcement by DOT Commissioner Joe Perkins that 70 positions - about 30 of which are vacant - will be eliminated comes less than a week after the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation announced 11 state parks in Fairbanks and the Mat-Su will be closed due to a $186,000 budget cut.

Transportation Department Legislative Liaison Dennis Poshard said the job cuts are taking place at all levels in the agency. He said the department also will have to cut back on road maintenance, and about 10 positions will go from full-time to part-time status. The DOT is one of the largest state agencies, employing about 3,000 people.

"I think the public is really going to feel this in the fall when we have our first big snow event," Poshard said, noting the cuts likely will affect plowing response times.

Nancy Slagle, director for the DOT Division of Administrative Services, said $1.7 million of the budget reduction is due to pay raises for state employees negotiated in 2000. The elimination of staff positions will be most strongly felt in the areas of highway and aviation, which rely more heavily on general fund appropriations, Slagle said.

Other state agencies, such as the Department of Community and Economic Development, also are feeling the pinch in their staffing budgets due to the cost of pay raises the Legislature told departments to absorb.

Raises and bonuses totaling $18.5 million began in 2000 with an across-the-board bonus of $1,200 per state worker. State employees also negotiated for a 2 percent pay raise in 2001 and a 3 percent raise in 2002.

Tom Lawson, administrative services director for the Department of Community and Economic Development, said $184,000 in general fund appropriations was cut from the department's budget the amount equal to the third-year pay raise. He said the cuts would have to be absorbed by divisions within the department that rely more heavily on general fund money, as opposed to federal or other funds.

The department's total operating budget is about $150 million, which accounts for about 450 state employees. Lawson said though the cut may seem small compared to the overall budget, divisions within the department will feel the sting.

"I think in at least one division there is going to be at least one staff position cut," Lawson said.

Pat Poland, director for the Division of Community and Business Development, said the deputy director who oversees tourism development throughout the state - a position held in Juneau - likely will be cut.

The position was created two years ago when the Division of Tourism merged with the Division of Community and Business Development and the director's position was downgraded to deputy director.

Poland said the division has picked up the work load of two other divisions within the past eight years - the Division of Rural Development and the Division of Trade and Development.

"There is this kind of continual shrinking of resources," Poland said. "No responsibilities go away, just people do."

Poland said eliminating the position would cover the bulk of the cut, but added there also would be reductions in the division's travel budget.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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