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Four county employees lose their jobs due to decline in building

POSTED February 16, 2010 9:51 p.m.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved eliminating four filled, allocated positions in the Department of Planning and Community Development Building Permits Division on Tuesday, due to declining revenue.
“It’s with a heavy heart we have no choice but to approve the staff recommendation,” said County District 1 Supervisor Bill O’Brien.
The County will lay off two building inspectors, an application specialist, and a senior engineering technician in a move expected to save $395,000 per year, with $90,000 in savings coming this budgetary year. According to Kirk Ford, director of Planning and Community Development, the staff reduction will allow the department to continue providing a “basic level of service.”
The Building Permits Division is funded entirely by permit revenue; no additional General Fund dollars pay for salaries. As a result, as business has declined over the years — falling from approximately 4,000 permits worth $207 million in 2006 to a projected 1,746 permits worth $60 million in 2009-2010 — so too has funding fallen for county staff.
“We are financially dependent on who walks in the door with what kind of building permit request,” Ford said.
Today, just 14 employees work for the Building Permits Division — a vacant chief position, three employees assigned to special projects, and 10 workers for day-to-day tasks. The average cost paid per employee, including benefits, has risen almost 50 percent since 2001, from approximately $58,000 to $90,000.
Tuesday’s reduction in forces is expected to narrow the gap between revenues and expenses, but will not bring the division entirely into the black.
Ford said the department would consider furloughs and other cost-saving or recovery measures, such as billing other county departments for receptionist services or charging customers bank fees. The county will also consider consolidating the Building Permits Division with the City of Modesto or selling County building services work to other communities, just as the county currently farms out plan checking services to the City of Ceres, Ford said.
While Tuesday’s reduction in forces was characterized as a difficult decision, it seemed inevitable to County Supervisors, who have reduced more than 600 positions over the past two years and still face what some are calling the most difficult budget in the County’s history.
“It’s not a choice that we willingly make, but it’s the economic situation we find ourselves in and it’s beyond our control,” District 3 Supervisor Jeff Grover said.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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