The Iowa Department of Transportation is asking for nearly $10 million from the state to stabilize staffing levels.
Iowa DOT Director Paul Trombino said the Legislature has not appropriated a salary adjustment since 2010 for the agency charged with building and maintaining Iowa’s transportation system. It’s meant absorbing inflating benefits and wages internally, leaving positions vacant when someone leaves, and ultimately losing those positions all together.
“The only way to absorb costs is to hold vacancies to hold staffing at levels I can afford,” Trombino said. “As a result we have been decreasing employees in the agency since I’ve been here. ... We’re the smallest we’ve ever been.”
Trombino requested during the annual governor’s budget hearing last month $9.7 million to maintain the Iowa DOT’s current position count at 2,699, he said. Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to make a budget proposal in the coming days.
The 2016 legislative session begins Monday, and Branstad is scheduled to deliver the Condition of the State Address on Tuesday.
Trombino estimated the agency is down 500 employees — from 3,100 to 2,600 — since he took over as Iowa DOT director in 2011. All the position losses have been through attrition rather than layoffs, he said.
“We decreased from where we were to a level we think puts us in a good position that allows us to be strategic,” he said.
Trombino wants the salary plan approved so he knows he can fill positions when people leave, which will help with planning.
One of Trombino’s early initiatives was a $57 million savings plan, which went into place in 2012, he said. The department became more efficient and cut costs. For example, the Iowa DOT has been rolling out self-serve driver’s license kiosks to relieve pressure on driver’s license personnel, he said.
While some jobs can be streamlined, others can’t. For example, labor-intensive work, such as plowing roads in the winter, require a lot of staff, Trombino said.
“I need a good amount of people to plow snow,” Trombino said. “That’s why we hire quite a few temporary workers, but at the end of the day, we need quite a few people to move plows around the state to keep roads clear and keep the economy moving.”
Other Iowa DOT proposals for the legislative session include:
l Young drivers with a school permit will be restricted to operating only within their school district or contiguous school districts for extracurricular activities. “These geographic limits reduce exposure to long-distance and unfamiliar trips for unsupervised drivers younger than 16 and promote safety,” according to the Iowa DOT proposal.
l Increase permitted tandem axle weight to 46,000 pounds, up from 40,000 pounds. Other than Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma, states across the country permit 43,000 pounds and most allow 46,000 pounds, according to the Iowa DOT.
The Iowa Motor Truck Association, Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association, and the Associated General Contractors of Iowa made a presentation to the Iowa DOT explaining the need for changes. The lower weight allowance makes it more costly to do business, which is putting Iowa at a competitive disadvantage, according to the agency.
“This will resolve the issue for the majority of freight carriers, especially those hauling construction equipment and machinery from manufacturing plants in Iowa,” according to the Iowa DOT.
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l A program to allow motorists with suspended driver’s licenses to work directly with the Iowa DOT to pay civil penalties and fines to regain driving privileges rather than through county attorneys, which can be more costly and delay lawful driving, according to the Iowa DOT.