Chandler layoffs may gut planning department - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Chandler layoffs may gut planning department

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Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 7:00 pm | Updated: 2:21 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A slowdown in new construction means Chandler's Planning and Development Department could suffer the brunt of the cuts if officials decide to lay off up to 29 city employees.

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But Dennis Strachota, management services director, said he believes the city won't need to move forward with layoffs because of the large response to early retirement packages recently approved by the City Council.

"I'm relatively optimistic that we're going to have sufficient vacancies so that we can avoid eliminating filled positions," Strachota said Tuesday.

Dave Bigos, assistant to the mayor and City Council, said dozens of employees have approached their supervisors about the early retirement packages. The period to apply for early retirement expires Monday, he said.

"Indications so far are that probably 40 to 50 people are strongly considering it," Bigos said. "I'd say interest has been high."

Officials released a list of 29 positions that potentially could be cut if the city decides layoffs are necessary. About one-third of the positions are in the Planning and Development Department. Those positions include: four building inspectors; a code specialist, who makes sure building applications meet city code; a permit representative; three plan examiners, who review applications for new development; and a project coordinator.

"With the slowdown in the economy and in development in the city, where are those areas where it has slowed down and work is minimal?" Bigos said of officials' rationale.

Strachota said officials had two criteria in making their selections: whether the work could be reassigned to another position, and whether the position has seen a drop-off in service demand.

"An example of that clearly would be in our Planning and Development Department," he said.

The Chandler Public Works Department is another, Strachota said. Public works could lose three engineers and an engineering tech, he said.

Three sworn police officers currently working desk jobs could be put on patrol duty, as well, he said.

"We already know we've got sufficient vacancies in patrol positions," Strachota said.

Officials don't want to be too specific about which jobs could be cut, he said. Since layoffs might not be necessary, officials haven't notified the people in those positions.

"That can be disconcerting, possibly embarrassing," he said.

One managerial position is on the list, but Strachota said he couldn't provide more information because doing so would identify the employee. However, it is not the sustainability manager position created late last year that is currently occupied by Jennifer Morrison, Strachota said.

He said only about 25 percent of funding for the sustainability manager position comes from the General Fund, which is facing a $21.5million deficit next year, he said. The potential layoffs would be aimed at helping the city close that gap. The remaining 75percent comes from water, wastewater and solid waste fee revenue, which are in a separate fund, Strachota said.

The other positions that could be cut mainly comprise support jobs. They include two administrative specialists, two administrative support positions, two executive assistants, a clerk, an information technology position, a maintenance worker, a program coordinator and a property management officer.

Jane Poston, a city spokeswoman, said the cuts would apply to positions, not people. The potential layoffs would start a cascade, wherein an employee who has been with the city a long time can bump another employee with less seniority out of his or her position, provided it's generally the same type of work. Those bumped employees would, in turn, put someone even more junior out of a job, until those with the least seniority are left without a job.

If the city decides to go ahead with a round of layoffs it likely would happen in early summer, officials have said. Each laid-off employee would receive a lump sum equal to three months of pay and would be allowed to continue on the city's health insurance plan for up to six months. The lump sum for the average employee amounts to a payment of between $15,000 and $20,000, according to officials.

While the City Council is scheduled to consider approving the layoff packages Tuesday, Bigos said officials won't know exactly how many layoffs will be needed, if any, until early summer. Interest in the voluntary separation packages is expected to pick up toward late May, when the period to accept the buyout ends.

Chandler would give employees who quit voluntarily five months of separation pay and allow them to continue on the city's health insurance plan for a year. Employees who choose early retirement get a similar package.

The city is required by state law to have a balanced budget. City officials have said eliminating a total of 90 positions - including buyouts, the elimination of up to 51 vacant positions and the possible layoffs - would save the city about $12 million per year.

Other proposals to help balance the budget include saving $4.5 million by eliminating such items as cost-of-living increases, merit increases and pay raises for city employees. Another $1.7million could be saved by cutting such things as tuition reimbursement, asking employees to reduce their work hours voluntarily and postponing the replacement of city computers, officials have said.

The City Council's budget hearings are slated to begin in May, with adoption of next year's budget expected in June.

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