The Snohomish County Council has taken steps towards the implementation of a hiring freeze for most county employees. The action was taken in response to mounting bad news regarding the county’s fiscal health.
The action introduced by Councilmember Brian Sullivan could lead to the adoption of an ordinance that would limit the ability of departments to fill new or vacant positions without first obtaining the Council’s approval. In order to gain approval to fill a vacancy the department would have to demonstrate that the position is critical to a health or safety function, is necessary to satisfy legal mandates, or is necessary for the cost-effective operation of the county. Some exemptions to the freeze could be granted for a limited number of positions including those performing public safety duties.
The last time a hiring freeze was implemented was in 2008 at the beginning of the Great Recession.
“We find ourselves today facing a similar situation as we did seven years ago with expenditures exceeding revenues and rapidly falling reserves” said Council Chair Dave Somers, noting that Executive Lovick has already indicated a need for large cuts in next year’s budget and has acknowledged that layoffs will be necessary in 2016. “This is one more step we can take now to rein in costs and shore up our reserves rather than waiting until we adopt a budget in November. We cannot afford inaction.”
Councilmember Sullivan expressed similar concerns regarding the need to take immediate steps to control spending: “I think it is important for the Council to start addressing some of the budget issues for the remainder of this year on an expedited basis.”
He supported adopting the freeze through an emergency ordinance that would take effect immediately upon Council action noting that it would allow the Council to “begin this discussion immediately.”
As introduced, the hiring freeze could be adopted either through the regular process which would require approval by the Executive, or through an emergency ordinance that requires four affirmative votes by the Council and which cannot be vetoed by the Executive. Action on the ordinance was deferred until Sept. 2.