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WatchSonoma Watch

75% of county offices meet budget-cut goal

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A bid by Sonoma County government to trim an extra 5 percent of spending this fiscal year is closer to reality but still faces large hurdles, officials reported Tuesday.

Among 20 county departments, 15 have already met or exceeded the savings goal. The effort aims to preserve about $10 million to help fill the county’s looming $42.3 million general fund deficit for the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

Current projections show the savings, which is carried over from year to year, at about $8 million. Much of it was achieved by staff attrition and leaving vacant positions unfilled, officials said.

“We’ve been working hard with department heads on these fiscal issues,” County Administrator Veronica Ferguson said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “I want to thank them for their cooperation. I can’t say it’s enthusiasm.”

The five departments yet to reach the savings target are the sheriff’s, district attorney, public defender and clerk-recorder’s offices and the Permit and Resource Management Department.

Ferguson said she remains “hopeful” they can meet the request.

Leaders of those offices, however, expressed some doubts about reaching the target.

“We’re coming in under budget, but I don’t know we’ll be getting to that 5 percent,” said Public Defender John Abrahams.

He said layoffs of two attorneys in his office of 30 lawyers would meet the target, but would affect the office’s ability to carry out its court-mandated caseload.

“If we cut people, we can’t deliver services,” Abrahams said.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch faces a similar dilemma. Most of the six vacant positions in her office cannot be used toward the savings because they were kept open to meet the department’s 10 percent general-fund budget cut for the current fiscal year, Ravitch said.

Since most of the office’s expenses are in salaries, layoffs remain the other major option.

“I don’t believe I’m being asked by the board to do layoffs right now,” Ravitch said. “So I’m kind of between a rock and a hard place.”

Sheriff Steve Freitas said his office was holding about 20 positions vacant to reach the savings goal, which equates to about a $4 million reduction in spending for the office, the largest in the county.

“Our goal is to make it to the 5 percent. If not, we’re going to provide some savings,” Freitas said.

Other measures, including a package of retirement incentives set to go before supervisors next month, could help reduce staff costs in the near term and next fiscal year, when all county departments could face a general-fund budget cut of 25 percent.

Two county departments may need outside help reaching the savings target.

A proposed state election in June requires the clerk-recorder’s office to buy ballot supplies now. Costs might be reimbursed by the state, officials said.

Meanwhile, a historic drop in revenue from building permits — a decline of more than 10 percent, officials said — can’t be fixed solely by planning staff cuts, said Pete Parkinson, director of the Permit and Resource Management Department.

Like most in county government outside of public safety, planning slashed spending by 20 percent this fiscal year. It has cut more than 20 jobs — most of them filled — in the past year, or about 14 percent of its 2009-2010 work force.

Fee hikes for building permits may need to be a bigger part of the budget picture, Parkinson said.

Builders fought off the steepest of those hikes last year. Supervisors will return to the issue April 19 in their next budget update.





3 Responses to “75% of county offices meet budget-cut goal”

  1. Just Me says:

    Leave the worker bees alone to do their job and pay them a living wage.

    CUT the BOS and CAO by at least 25% pay and 50% benefits, and no retirement for short terms, they must serve at least 25 years first!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. bear says:

    “Cut, cut, cut.” Let’s be simplistic.

    The vast majority of public employees make a reasonable wage which is spent mostly in Sonoma County and supports private sector jobs. Make them unemployed and they’ll leave – they can’t afford Sonoma’s high cost of living. So anyone employed in the private sector gets hurt. Who cares?

    In a couple of years this miracle recesssion, caused by no one, will get better. All the vacant positions in County government will need to be filled.

    Only the trained employees will be gone, and new folks will have to be trained – if they can be convinced to move to a high price county with low wages.

    Which leaves an aging County population with vastly reduced services.

    Sounds smart to me?

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  3. The Hammer says:

    Stop the complaining and cut—cut–cut. I am getting tired of the complaining from all of the County departments. I couldn’t care less why they think their department is so important. There just isn’t enough funds to continue as before. Time to downsize. Government is too big and has lost sight of reasonable pay levels. Cut—Cut—Cut.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 13

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