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Planned layoffs of engineers will push agency 'to the edge,' expert tells county
[January 09, 2008]

Planned layoffs of engineers will push agency 'to the edge,' expert tells county

(Columbian, The (Vancouver, WA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Jan. 9--The team of engineers that reviews all the development plans in Clark County is lean and getting leaner, the vice president of a Vancouver development consulting firm said Tuesday.

Proposed layoffs in the county's community development department, leaving the team with five engineers, will bring it "to the edge of its ability to perform basic functions," Tim Schauer, a vice president for MacKay & Sposito, told county commissioners.

"They're just understaffed," Schauer said in a subsequent interview. "That's why the timelines are double what they should be."

The team is a small part of the community development department, which is hemorrhaging $250,000 a month amid a construction slowdown.

The team has struggled to hire and retain engineers. Of two engineering positions the county is considering cutting from the team, one has sat unfilled for more than two years.

According to calculations by Community Development Finance Manager Toby LaFrance, it's already working at 167 percent of capacity.

"Doing work predictably and efficiently means retaining people over time," said Schauer, who sits on a citizens board that oversees the engineers. "You need institutional kno wledge."

County engineers, who are unionized, make $21.63 to $37.02 per hour. They received 3.25 percent raises this year.

LaFrance's figures show that proposed staff reductions across the community development department will push the department's permit services and development services teams above their capacity.

That'll force managers to pick up the slack, LaFrance said.

His figures are based on county projections for the building industry and the average amount of time it's taken county workers to finish tasks over the last seven years.

At Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Betty Sue Morris said the community development department's fixed-rate fee system might be a poor way of keeping tabs on where money in the department is being spent.

"I suppose we need to consider switching to billable hours," she said.

Engineering Services Division Manager Sue Stepan said Tuesday that she thought the county should start outsourcing more tasks to private businesses, so it's not caught with too few engineers in busy times and too many in slow times.

County Budget Director Glenn Olson added that the department could still find some ways to work more efficiently, perhaps by cross-training engineers in other divisions.

"Business does it better," he said. "We can do it better, too."


Previously: In December, county budget planners suggested using layoffs to help close a $3 million budget gap in the community development department.

What's new: Tuesday, an executive at a Vancouver consulting firm warned that the county's development engineering team is almost as thin as it can get.

What's next: The county will lose $250,000 a month until changes are made.

>Michael Andersen covers Clark County government: 360-759-8052 or [email protected]

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