By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors Monday used money from employee concessions to keep about 34 jobs and save several high-priority programs from the budget ax, including a juvenile probation center for girls, a community policing program and two domestic violence counselor jobs.
Supervisors preserved a total of $4.2 million in jobs and programs, mostly through money the county expects to recoup from employee furloughs in the coming fiscal year, beginning July 1.
The restorations reduce from $31.2 to $27 million the job and program cuts that supervisors are set to approve when they vote on the final budget today.
To fill the rest of the $61.6 million deficit in county’s $395 million general fund, supervisors have looked at $11.7 million in different one-time funds, $10 million in salary and hiring freezes, $3.5 million in improved sales tax revenue and a combined $5.2 million in savings from refinancing of pension-system debt and reducing the funds supervisors hand out to community projects and groups.
Monday’s restorations came after a negotiations deadline with employee groups and announcements from two groups that they had reached a deal with the county on the mandatory days off without pay.
Department heads who earlier stood to lose 10 to 20 percent of their budget, including some of the high-priority programs, greeted supervisors’ moves with open arms.
“We’re thrilled,” said Chief Probation Officer Robert Ochs, whose department oversees the Sierra Youth Center. The 20-bed juvenile probation center for girls was initially slated for closure, taking with it about 10 jobs. But supervisors unanimously endorsed keeping it open with about $1.1 million of the furlough savings.
Pending a final vote today and the outcome of continued furlough talks with employees, supervisors also decided:
–The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Larkfield and Sonoma Valley substations will remain open, and a community policing and graffiti cleanup program will continue on a smaller scale. Two domestic violence counselors paid for through a contract with the YWCA will be retained another year.
–In the District Attorney’s Office, a victim advocate job and an attorney position that deals with juvenile victims of crime through the Redwood Children’s Center will be saved. An attorney slot assigned to juvenile court will be cut.
–About $115,000 will be restored for maintenance of county parks, but nearly four seasonal park slots, each of which is used to employ several part-time workers, will be cut.
Supervisors had hoped to save about 58 jobs and associated programs, totaling about $7.5 million in spending. But employee concessions fell short of that tally by an afternoon deadline Monday.
In addition to the furlough savings, a freeze in staff training dollars recouped another $875,000, but supervisors decided to tuck most of that away for spending at a later date on community projects and groups.
Still, supervisors applauded employee groups that agreed to the furloughs.
“We know you made sacrifices and we deeply, deeply appreciate it,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who was backed heavily by labor unions in her 2008 election win.
The roughly 2,000-member SEIU Local 1021, the county’s largest union, and the 225-member Deputy Sheriff’s Association, the third largest employee group, announced Monday they’d reached tentative furlough deals with the county.
Because of SEIU’s size, the union’s deal for eight furlough days in the coming fiscal year and five the next sets the terms for all other participating employees. Across the 11 represented employee groups and unrepresented workers, the furlough package equates to a roughly 3 percent pay cut and results in a one-year savings of $3.9 million
A earlier deal agreed to by the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Association or SCLEA, representing probation officers, correctional workers and emergency dispatchers, called for a total of 20 furlough days over two years and would have added up to about $6 million in savings the first year.
In addition to SCLEA and an associated group of law enforcement managers, two other represented employee groups and three unrepresented groups, including supervisors and management, have signed on to a furlough deal.
County officials would not confirm the SEIU and DSA deals Monday or discuss their terms, citing the need for each group to endorse any agreement through a vote.
July 13 is the next deadline for employee negotiations. After that the board indicated they could increase or decrease the job and program restorations based on additional estimated savings from furloughs.
In other business Monday, supervisors endorsed spending $1.7 million in federal stimulus money to fully fund the county’s Human Services Commission — and the 19 nonprofits it supports — plus save about 11 jobs in veteran assistance, child welfare, foster care, adult protective services and in-home care for the elderly.
The board had earlier indicated their intention to spend about $1.2 million of the federal funds for a portion of those jobs. On Monday, supervisors dipped into the stimulus account for another $500,000.
Leaders of groups that provide for the needy applauded the move in public comments Monday.
“This is the time to really stretch and dig deep,” said John Records, executive director of Petaluma-based Committee on the Shelterless, which receives about $72,000 annually for its efforts to house the low-income and homeless.
Outgoing supervisors Paul Kelley and Mike Kerns, who are both retiring from the board this year after a combined 28 years of service, also took the opportunity to share a bit of budget advice.
Kelley gave a 10-minute roll call of former and current county officials who he has worked with and expressed concern about the county’s use of furloughs and $11.7 million in one-time funds — including tobacco settlement money, delinquent property tax penalties and retirement account savings — to balance the budget.
“It creates some significant challenges if you don’t see revenue restored,” he said of the use of one-time reserves.
Kerns, meanwhile, said the county’s fiscal challenges were mirrored by the length of budget hearings, which this year stretched into a second week for the first time in his 12 years on the board.
“It’s not going to be easy next year or probably the next couple of years,” he said to assembled county colleagues. “I wish you well.”