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Layoffs should be a last resort
I would like to express my great concern about how the city is going about addressing its budget shortfalls from the recession and the impacts on the community that may result from the city’s actions. I became aware this week that the city is planning to lay off employees. While there is no doubt we all must reduce expenses and make difficult choices these days to get our communities and the country through these tough economic times, layoffs should always be used as a last resort, particularly when the impacts of doing so can directly affect the public.
From being regularly involved in the community, it seems to me that our city is efficiently run and that there is neither an excess of services, nor are we sorely lacking. In other words, we have the right balance of service from our city in Mercer Island. Cutting employees from the city will upset that balance, in my opinion, and I am concerned about how we, the public, will suffer in two ways. First, fewer employees simply will not be able to provide the same level of service that we are used to on Mercer Island. Second, most of us know people who either have been laid off themselves or who work for organizations that have laid people off, and we know that the people who remain after a layoff are generally demoralized, depressed and less engaged in their work. We’ve all heard the stories in the media regarding this over the past 18 months. As a result, service levels — no matter what service the organization provides — ultimately decline as a result.
Many cities are using alternative methods to layoffs, such as rotating furlough days to avoid significant impacts to service, reductions in hours, and reducing or eliminating “perks” and benefits. From what I have gathered, these approaches have not yet been used in Mercer Island, and there are no plans to utilize alternative approaches to layoffs. Using furloughs as an example, if each person took one day off a month on a rotating basis, the impact to service would be felt far less than the blanket elimination of positions in the city.
As if service impacts are not enough, layoffs hurt the broader economy as well. People whose hours, benefits or perks are reduced are far less likely than those who have lost their jobs to be forced into such drastic measures such as foreclosures, which have been plaguing our communities.
In short, I am very disappointed that Mercer Island has taken such a short-sighted approach to it’s budget concerns and sought what may seem like the easiest and quickest path to recovery, but one which has both immediate negative impacts to our city in terms of service, as well as longer-lasting consequences to our economy and surrounding communities by sending more people down the path towards poverty. We as a community should be able to weather this storm with a much more innovative approach.