Pink slips are expected to roll out between Christmas and New Year’s at state parks, where 83 of the state’s 189 full-time rangers stand to lose their current jobs.
To stay on, most would have to take a major pay cut and work as little as five months of the year in one of 63 new seasonal jobs being created. During the cold months, the state’s 116 parks will likely outnumber the rangers who help keep them running.
The scaled-back, seasonal approach is prompted by slow sales of the parking pass for state lands and was signaled by layoff notices earlier this month. The downsizing is proceeding despite a plea from a dozen lawmakers to hold off.
“I appreciate them saying ‘Hey, wait,’ but to me I think it would be irresponsible to wait and spend more money,” said State Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Joe Taller of Olympia, a former legislator and state budget director. He said each month of delay costs $750,000.
It’s still unclear how many of Parks’ 494 year-round employees will remain after the reshuffling, but in interviews and a Tuesday letter to lawmakers, commission staff members revealed details about jobs being eliminated, including:
• 16 of 76 construction and maintenance workers.
• Other field staff such as park aides and landscapers, with numbers still being worked out.
• Seven of 37 management positions. In all, 23 jobs are to be eliminated at Parks headquarters in Olympia and in regional offices around the state. But some of those might come from vacant positions.
Many of the employees being let go will be offered other work, the agency says.
Lawmakers led by Democratic Rep. Steve Tharinger of Sequim complained in a letter to commissioners that front-line maintenance workers and rangers are taking larger cuts than administrators, echoing concerns raised by the union that represents Parks workers, the Washington Federation of State Employees.
Two-thirds of the state’s 494 year-round workers are stationed in the field, according to numbers provided by the commission. Most of the rest work out of headquarters, except for 28 at regional offices.
Using one early estimate of cuts, the federation says there will soon be fewer employees in the field than in the offices and headquarters.
That claim relies on estimates of office staff that Parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter said are too high. She said there are 163 staff members at headquarters and regional offices. And 43 of those are paid with federal money or state capital-construction money, she said, so they are immune to layoffs.
Parks officials say they don’t know what the breakdown between office workers and field staff will be after the cuts. While more than 100 field employees are losing their jobs, some could land in other year-round jobs, Painter said.
The reason for the cuts is lagging sales of the Discover Pass, the new $30 annual fee for parking on state lands, and not the budget-cutting measure Gov. Chris Gregoire signed Tuesday.
Taller said Parks will have to ask lawmakers for more money from the state’s general fund in the next budget cycle, if not this one. In the meantime, he said, layoffs are necessary to avoid closing parks.
Don Hall, an assistant area manager at Wenatchee Confluence State Park, told lawmakers last week that they should stave off the cuts with new tax revenue. The cuts are counterproductive, he said.
“Visitation in the parks is going to dwindle,” he said.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@thenews tribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics Twitter: @Jordan_Schrader