Iowa’s secretary of agriculture is trying to use furloughs to save nearly a million dollars in his agency’s budget, but the state employees’ union has filed a protest.
Ag Secretary Bill Northey has suggested that employees in the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship take four hours off, without pay, in each two-week pay period.
"If we were able to reduce four hours every two weeks, that would save us about a million dollars on a yearly basis," Northey says. "We’re not going to implement that until we get an O.K. from the arbitrator, so we’re looking at a little under $900,000 worth of savings."
A union representative was not available for comment. If the arbitrator sides with the union, there’ll be pink slips.
"If in the end we don’t get that reduction in hours, we’re going to have to look at another round of layoffs to be able to cover that savings that we’ve got to find by the end of this budget year," Northey says.
Northey’s agency has been given a spending plan for the next 12 months that is $3.3 million less than last year’s. It’s a cut of about 12 percent. Over the past year, Northey has not filled open jobs and laid off a couple of workers.
"We’re keeping positions open as folks leave — go to another job or retirement," Northey says. "We have right now about 26 open positions which is seven percent of our workforce."
Northey is one of seven statewide elected officials. As secretary of agriculture, Northey is the top administrator of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Since Northey took office in 2007, he has reduced the number of divisions in the department from four to two and combined other operations in order to cut administrative costs.
"For the most part we’re just stretching everybody a little bit thinner and, hopefully, still getting almost everything done that needs to be done," Northey says. "But we’re looking at different pieces of programs where we can drop off some of those responsibilities and not effect the public to be able to make some savings, while we make sure that we do the things the public very much depends on."
Northey says food safety and animal health are top priorities, and he’s trying to ensure staff stability in those areas.
Northey, a Republican, announced last weekend that he would seek re-election in 2010.