Renton is trying to recover a portion of the estimated $22.5 million in revenue that it’s losing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city is using a series of partial furloughs and is exploring an incentive program that gives long-term employees health insurance for 18 months at no cost if they quit.
Mayor Armondo Pavone commented on the work to reduce expenses in his May 19 COVID-19 Newsletter, thanking the employees that have had to furlough hours.
“Implementing the program was through the combined efforts of our city administrators and affiliated unions,” Pavone said in a newsletter. “During this time of budget tightening across the city, it’s a real win-win for those involved.”
About 200 employees are working on reduced hours until July 25, with 10 percent to 50 percent of their hours cut while retaining benefits to qualify for the Shared Work Program— a state employment security division program that fills the gap in hours with unemployment pay and the $600 weekly bonus from the CARES Act. The furloughs will save the city an estimated $642,000. Police officers are not affected.
The city is reducing discretionary spending and overtime, delaying hiring for vacant positions and eliminating travel and training expenses. City departments identified capital projects to be cancelled or delayed, saving a $3.9 million. As of this posting, the Reporter is tracking down which projects these cuts will affect.
The city’s equipment purchases are being postponed, saving $1.2 million. Renton is also taking $3.6 million in fund reserves and using it to supplement the 2020 budget.
The separation incentive program allows employees who have worked with the city for at least two years to leave their position, but retain 18 months of COBRA healthcare — commonly offered to workers who lose their health benefits — at no cost. Because it would be a voluntary separation, that employee would not receive unemployment benefits. The city would then hold the positions vacant to save money.
The separation incentive has not been approved yet. It will be brought to Renton City Council for approval on June 1.
Council President Ruth Pérez said it has been incredible how city employees have responded in this time of crisis, first working from home and now participating in the shared work program while keeping consistent customer service.
“I thank every city employee for their willingness to step in and help to reduce expenses. I’m extremely proud of them and I really appreciate their commitment to keep providing a high level of service for our residents during this pandemic,” Pérez said.
The city will also receive federal aid from the CARES Act for $3.14 million, King County Economic Development Relief Program at $165,890, and be able to support the community with block grants for business recovery at $450,000.