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If you take the time to study Seattle departments in detail, it's obvious that many city departments have a wide spread of job titles and pay. The head of a department can easily make above $150,000 per year, not an unreasonable amount. But directly under the director are dozens of administrators with exceptionally good pay. The mayor and city council presumably have sent the message to city departments to find all ways to cut staff, but one wonders whether departments will cut from the upper or lower end of the very wide pay scale. Would it not make good sense for city council to set policy on what range of pay scales should be cut?
There has been news about a parks department plan to close wading pools and not dump garbage cans or service bathrooms in parks on certain days. Most of the job cuts were for employees at the extreme bottom of the pay scale. Left in place were eight executives making from $114,000 to $160,000, 12 strategic advisors making $60,000 to $106,000, 38 managers making above $70,000, and even nine personnel analysts. Maybe the personnel analysts decide how to make cuts; they are paid between $64,000 and $79,000. If wading pool attendants are paid between $13,000 and $20,000 per year, how many fewer strategic advisors would it take to keep the wading pools open?
Actually, the parks department is fairly lean compared to other departments. Seattle Public Utilities has 31 executives who earn from $114,000 to $187,000. SPU has 67 strategic advisers, some whom make $116,000, along with dozens of managers who make in excess of $90,000 a year. In all SPU has 102 employees who make $100,000 a year or more.
SPU and Seattle City Light differ from other departments in that they create revenue. If more staff are added or costs go up, the city has the option to increase service rates to cover the increased costs.
Seattle's Department of Transportation, commonly called SeaTrans, has around 728 employees. Once called the engineering department, its duties have expanded many times in recent years, and now include everything from writing new rules for operating scooters to issuing street-use permits and fixing potholes. Planners and managers are strongly represented on the SeaTrans work force, whose payroll in 2008 was $47.7 million, not counting health care and retirement benefits. The department lists 10 executive positions and 44 manager positions. SeaTrans has 38 employees who earn over $100,000 per year.
There are other curious anomalies in the pay scales of Seattle employees. Take the Seattle Public Library, undergoing severe cuts. Its 690 employees represent proportionally the highest educational level among city employees, yet library employees, as a group, are the lowest-paid employees in the city system. There are only two library administrators with pay above $125,000, and they supervise 345 people.
The fire department, on the other hand, with a total budget for 2010 at $156.9 million has about 1,100 employees. This includes eight executive positions, 35 fire chiefs, and assorted strategic advisors and captains who are largely administrative. They end up with one administrator for each 25 employees. The department has 115 employees above $100,000. None of this group of 115 are asked to enter burning buildings. It would appear library management is dozens of times more efficient.
So, if you were Mayor Mike McGinn and the city council, where would you plan to make the big cuts necessary in the next three years? Would you put on hold purchases of new Prius hybrids? Would you re-evaluate the 24 different union contracts and ask each union to make adjustments in their contract? If a union votes to approve the use of unpaid furloughs or time off or extended unpaid holidays, the city can cut costs. However, not all unions have made that choice possible.
Labor law is complex, as are the details in the 24 contracts the city has with its employees. Private sector union leaders have already taken the unexpected stance that public sector unions should re-evaluate their positions or take the chance of losing their jobs. San Francisco took the unprecedented step to avoid bankruptcy by sending pink slips to all 15,000 city employees. Their plan was to hire back virtually everyone but with new contracts and pay scales commensurate with the revenue available.
Meanwhile, Seattleites will probably flock to McGinn’s public hearings and demand that their their pet project not be cut. If the city complies and fails to act with needed cuts, Seattle could end up in an even worse financial dilemma later.
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