Iowa City approves layoffs, blames federal sequestration

Two positions to be eliminated in housing department; Council member fears more cuts coming

Gregg Hennigan
Published: December 3 2013 | 9:23 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:26 am in
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IOWA CITY – The Iowa City Housing Authority is laying off two employees, with city officials blaming a reduction in funds due to federal sequestration.

The City Council approved the move with a 6-1 Tuesday night, but not before hearing critical comments from a union leader.

“What you see on paper, that’s cut and dry,” said Teri Byers, executive vice president for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 183. “For those of us who are here, those are our co-workers. … Your actions will affect the lives of these individuals, their families … and the community at large.”

City staffers, however, said sequestration, the spending cuts by the federal government earlier this year resulting from budget disagreements between Democrats and Republicans, has caused a big reduction in funding for the Iowa City Housing Authority.

The Housing Authority oversees housing assistance programs in Johnson County and parts of Washington and Iowa counties.

The Section 8 administrative revenue has decreased 30 percent, the Section 8 voucher funding is down 6 percent and the public housing operating subsidy is down 18 percent, according to the city.

The Housing Authority is projecting a $131,559 operating deficit in calendar year 2014. The two layoffs will save $136,445 and are to take effect Feb. 19.

Council member Jim Throgmorton, who cast the lone “no” vote, said he thought the layoffs will hinder the city’s ability to address affordable housing needs.

“I think it’s too easy to point a finger of blame at the federal government,” he said.

Other council members said while the layoffs were regrettable, they trusted the recommendation from city staff. And Doug Boothroy, Iowa City’s director of housing and inspection services, said at a work session earlier in the evening that sequestration did not affect the number of housing vouchers or affordable housing units the city has.

Throgmorton raised questions about the number of Section 8 vouchers not currently being used.

An average of 94 percent of 1,215 available vouchers have been used this year, which are used by qualifying individuals to help pay for housing. Boothroy said the goal is 98 percent.

But he said being at 98 percent would have brought the city another $27,668, not enough to save a job. He also said federal funding has been trending downward and the Housing Authority was already barely making payroll.

“At the end of the day, the sequestration cut – I guess I’ll use a cliche –was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Boothroy said.

Council member Susan Mims warned these will not be the last layoffs to come as city officials continue say property tax reform adopted by state lawmakers earlier this year will reduce revenue for local governments.

“What worries me the most is we’re going to be doing more of these as time goes on,” she said.

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