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County cuts budget

POSTED June 12, 2009 8:39 p.m.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a budget that will make deep cuts across the county on Tuesday morning, but thanks to prudent planning only 14 employees will lose their jobs.
“We’re very fortunate to be where we’re at,” said Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, who related tales of other sheriff’s departments across the state laying off as many 100 deputy sheriffs. “… I can’t even imagine what it would be like to tell the men and women who protect our community, who work for me, that they can’t do that job anymore.”
Stanislaus County implemented a hiring freeze 18 months ago in anticipation of the current economic downturn. While the county’s workforce will number just 4,005 this year — 454 fewer employees than last year — 440 of the cut positions were already vacant.
Those workers who have lost their job as a result of the budget will remain in the employ of the county until Sept. 5.
The budget approved on Tuesday tallies $955 million, and closes a projected $34 million shortfall.
All public safety budgets endured a 5 percent reduction, saving $5.4 million, while general government departments were forced to cut 12 percent of their budget, lopping $6.7 million from the deficit. These cuts come on top of a 3 percent countywide budget cut conducted at the 2008-2009 fiscal year midyear budget review.
Five county officials — the Chief Executive Officer, Assessor, Clerk-Recorder, District Attorney, and Sheriff — will also take a voluntary 5 percent pay cut as part of the budget. The Board of Supervisors rejected a recommended 7.5 percent increase of their own pay, and accepted a 5 percent pay cut instead.
The county will use $8 million in reserves to patch remaining budget holes.
While only a handful of employees will lose their jobs with the county, furlough agreements will result in fewer effective staff members across all county departments.
County District Attorney Birgit Fladager stated that, while 7 percent more cases are being reviewed and 11 percent more cases are being filed, her office will effectively lose two and a half attorneys.
Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers said that while his department will avoid furloughs and layoffs, service levels have already been affected by attrition due to the hiring freeze. Almost 300 felony offenders are currently unsupervised in Stanislaus County, and due to pending state budget cuts as many as 575 more drug offenders could become unsupervised.
The public safety sector will also see a reduction of 64 minimum-security beds at the Public Safety Center.
Christianson said that the cut would not have a significant effect on the ability of the county to house criminals, as new a federal mandate statutorily caps the number of offenders the county can house.
“This will have no negative impact,” Christianson said. “We’re going to keep bad guys and violent predators in custody, and we’re going to put more people in jail-alternative programs.”
While the cutbacks have already been harsh at the county, further cuts seem inevitable following the failure of Propositions 1A-1E in the May 19 Statewide Special Election. County staff is already projecting a potential $29.8 million in General Fund shortfall in the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
“I wish that I could tell you this proposed budget represents a final solution, but it doesn’t,” said Richard Robinson, Stanislaus County Chief Executive Officer. “The budget brought before you is balanced, based on the information available today, but we do know this will change as the state addresses the ($24.3 billion) budget gap.”
The county expects the state could withhold as much as $20 million in anticipated funding, in order to balance their own budget. The State of California already owes the county $10 million in unfunded mandates, dating back to 1999.
According to Robinson, “We simply don’t have the resources to fill the holes the state is going to leave.”
“My message to the State of California is to leave us alone,” District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa said. “We can do our job if you leave us alone to do our job.”
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors is expected to review the Final Budget at 6:35 p.m. on Sept. 15.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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