Whatcom County executive calls for hiring freeze
By Tara Nelson
Residents thinking of applying for a new job can cross county positions off their list of places to submit a resume.
On July 11, Whatcom County executive Pete Kremen announced that all unfilled county positions will remain vacant until further notice.
This freeze comes in response to the 2008 county budget, which officials say is more than $1 million short of where the executive’s office wants it.
In addition, the county budget for 2009 is projected to be as much as $6 million short, indicating that the hiring freeze could stretch into 2009, Whatcom County deputy administrator Dewey Desler said.
In a meeting with Whatcom County Council members Tuesday, Desler said that the county’s three largest forms of revenue – sales tax, property tax and investment interest rates – are down and the county has been dipping into its reserves as a result.
An increase in county employees and their need for medical insurance has also increased the county’s expenditures, as have the rising cost of fuel for county vehicles and Whatcom County utilities, Desler said.
To offset the increasing expenditures, the executive’s office issued the hiring freeze. Officials, however, say they are also looking for other ways to cut costs for 2009, including a possible 3.6 percent budget cut for all county departments and more cuts from planning and development, juvenile administration, parks and recreation and public health departments.
Council members said they were concerned about the effect the hiring freeze could have on important county jobs that are vacant.
Desler explained that department heads may request to fill a vacancy in their department by providing the office with a written explanation of the necessity of the position and how the position will be paid for.
The council and Desler agreed that in order for a position to be filled it should either already be funded, or a plan should be made as to what the department will change to make up for the funds it will take to fill the position.
At the time of the freeze there were 76 vacant county positions, 25 of which were essential and have already been exempt, but Desler estimates that the remaining positions will need to remain vacant to put the budget where it needs to be.
“My concern was that this was just a one-size fits all thing,” council member Carl Weimer said. “Some things are more important than others and I wanted to make sure important positions were going to be able to be filled.”
Council requested administration attend Tuesday’s finance committee meeting after the job and budget measure was unilaterally announced by Kremer.
The council and administration agreed to communicate more closely as the budget process for 2009 moves ahead.
“I think the council had a lot of good questions.” Desler said. “We always want to work closely with them, and they said they want to work closely with us, so that is a positive sign that we will be able to address some of these challenges.”