Grays Harbor unemployment security continuing upward

MONTESANO — The cost for Grays Harbor County’s unemployment insurance has continued to increase after years of doing furloughs, reducing work hours and laying off employees. In fact, the county is now paying roughly six times as much as it did in 2010.

Earlier this year, the county commissioners acknowledged an increase in its unemployment insurance, taking more money out of the county’s reserve fund to cover the unanticipated budget increase.

It’s the second year in a row there’s been a boost to its unemployment insurance rate.

County Budget Director Brenda Sherman said the initial budget adopted for the county included $337,844 combined across all county funds for state unemployment. But the county’s insurance rate jumped from a budgeted 1.7 percent to 2.1 percent. That meant an increase of $79,026. Those rates apply to all of the county’s funds, including its employees in solid waste and the road fund.

Just focusing on the county general fund operating budget, the county had budgeted $195,421, but the rate boost meant an increase of $45,515 out of the county’s general fund, according to Sherman. Recently, the county commissioners approved taking money out of reserves to cover the balance for the general fund.

As a comparison, the county’s general fund paid roughly $40,000 in unemployment insurance back in 2010.

County Commissioner Frank Gordon says the county is not alone in its increase, noting that he’s heard of many other businesses in the same situation.

Sherman first noticed the trend in March of last year, cautioning that the county’s layoffs and participation in a work share program, which partially paid for county employees taking days off without pay, have contributed to the increase in state unemployment insurance rates.

Dozens of employees have been laid off in recent years because of budget cuts. Last year, the commissioners implemented a provision in the county’s union contract calling for temporary layoffs, shutting down the departments at the County Administration Building for unpaid furlough days at least once month.

Besides layoffs, dozens of employees have been participating in a work-share program that Grays Harbor signed up for with the state. Instead of a county employee losing a full day’s wages, he or she is allowed to file for unemployment for that single day from the state, which pays that employee roughly half of what would be lost. The program is likely impacting the county’s rate.

Some county departments have been participating in the program for more than three years.

For the 2013 budget, the county commissioners mandated that departments take a 3.5 percent cut to their offices. For most of the offices, it meant a “contra” entry allowing elected officials and department heads the full year to figure out the cuts without mandating the specific places for the cuts. Meantime, the county building shutdowns have gone away.

Grays Harbor District Court and the county’s Central Services Division implemented furloughs right away. Human Resources Director Marilyn Lewis says those employees are still part of the work share program.

Recently, the county commissioners eliminated part of the cut for the Sheriff’s Office. Other departments are waiting to see what the commissioners do.

“I assume with the Sheriff’s Department budget adjustments, the biggest share of the anticipated reductions are gone. I am hoping the same consideration is given the rest of the county departments,” Auditor Vern Spatz said.