News Clips— Does staff size matter?

HARD TIMES MAKE for a tough budget process, as Seattle's mayor and City Council are finding out.

And Mayor Paul Schell and the nine council members are still looking for more savings—often in each other's budgets.

Schell, who added a third deputy mayor last year, has already agreed to scale back to two. But the council has further proposed cutting two special assistants and a deputy press secretary from the mayor's personal staff. Council member Nick Licata is also proposing to eliminate eight positions in the mayor's Strategic Planning Office, representing some $580,000 in staff savings. "They have a lot of talent, but how do you justify having 62 people in a planning office when you're cutting $24 million in the budget?" says Licata. "It just doesn't add up."

Schell is eyeing cuts of about $127,000 in legislative staff costs, divided among the nine council offices. Currently, each council member receives funding for three aide positions and can distribute the money and jobs accordingly—the mayor's cut would eliminate about a quarter of one full-time position per council member. Schell spokesperson Roger Nyhus notes that the mayor's personal staff has remained constant at 23.5 positions throughout his term, yet the council's staff has risen from 58 positions in 1997 to 78 positions this year.

These proposed cuts probably seem minor to the average citizen—especially given that the mayor has proposed closing branch libraries for a week each in May and November, with employees getting the time off without pay. Similar reductions in community center and pool hours are also anticipated.

But layoffs are always controversial in City Hall. For example, Schell's latest round of cuts (adjusting to falling revenues and the passage of state tax-limitation Initiative 747) proposes the elimination of some 60 positions, but anticipates that most of those employees will simply shift to other open city jobs. In all, under Schell's plan, only five employees would actually be laid off.

The cutting will stop when the council approves a final budget in late November.

James Bush

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