Clark County lays off 67 workers

A continuing decline in construction prompted Clark County officials today to lay off 67 employees, most of them building inspectors.

It’s the latest round of layoffs in development services, a department funded by fees that builders pay on projects.

The layoffs come at a time when county officials are considering even more layoffs in other departments to help offset an estimated $126 million shortfall in the next budget year.

Last year, the county slashed 51 jobs in the development services department’s civil division because of the drop-off in residential construction. About half those workers were laid off and half were transferred to other departments.

“There’s an overall slump in the business that the department conducts,” county spokesman Erik Pappa said. “We’re forced into a time when people, unfortunately, are losing their jobs.”

Forty-two of the 67 workers laid off today are building inspectors. That leaves 115 inspectors in the department.

Pappa said county managers will monitor workloads and permits to determine whether more jobs should be cut later.

“It’s very possible we could see more layoffs if we don’t see a turnaround,” he said.

Aside from the layoffs, six people quit through the county’s voluntary separation program, which gives employees a week’s pay for every two years of service. The worker must be employed at the county for at least five years to qualify.

Two workers were transferred to other departments. In all 75 jobs were eliminated for an annual savings of $6 million in wages and benefits, Pappa said. These savings should help the fee-generated “enterprise fund” last through 2013, he added.

A union leader said the layoffs had been expected for months, due to the construction slowdown.

“If they aren’t generating revenue, they’ve got nothing to work with,” said David Peter, a representative with the Service Employees International Union Local 1107.

Development services isn’t allowed to draw money from other revenue sources such as the general fund to augment its income, Peter said.

According to county data:

— New-home inspections are down 86 percent to 1,930 in 2009 from 14,260 in 2004.

— All categories of permits are down by more than half, to 43,209 in 2009 from 98,784 five years ago.

— All categories of inspections are down 63 percent, to 280,733 last year from 750,357 six years ago.

Most employees who lost their jobs earn between $50,000 and $80,000 a year, Peter said.

County managers informed workers in the department two weeks ago that at least 73 jobs would be cut, Peter said. That gave people some time to apply for a transfer or quit with severance pay.

Today, workers received two weeks pay and were told this was their last day, Peter said.

Employees with less seniority were laid off, Peter said. Although not required by contract, the typical practice at the county is to retain the more tenured union workers, he said.

However, management is allowed to exempt up to 8 percent of a department’s rank-and-file workers from layoffs, Peter said, noting that the list can include less senior employees.

For this wave of layoffs, managers picked just eight employees, Peter said.

During last year’s layoffs, managers exempted the maximum 8 percent allowed, which added up to 28 employees, he said.

Some laid-off workers thought management had misused the exemptions, putting junior employees on the list to get rid of older ones they didn’t like, Peter said.

Thirteen employees filed an appeal with the layoff review committee, a local body created through the SEIU contract, he said. The board is composed of two union officials, two managers and a chairman.

Only one worker won, Peter said. Eight have filed complaints with the state Employee Management Relations Board.

If the most recent laid-off workers decide to appeal, the union will offer guidance, Peter said.

“We’ll give them as much information as we can give them,” Peter said. “Whatever we can do to help them through this time.”

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

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