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County budget is rewarding, yet frustrating

By: F.C. 'Rocky' Rockholm, Placer County Supervisor
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Developing Placer County?s budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year has been both frustrating and rewarding. It has been frustrating because the nation?s economic downturn and state budget crisis put the Board of Supervisors in a no-win situation. We had no choice but to make some tough, unpopular decisions to balance Placer County?s budget. It has been rewarding to see the board and county management team work with the vast majority of employees to solve the county?s budget challenges. We were largely successful in achieving two top priorities: avoiding layoffs and preserving the county?s high-quality services to the public. The board held its final budget hearing on Sept. 8 and formally adopted a $784 million final budget on Sept. 22, approximately $81 million lower than last year?s budget. A cornerstone of the budget deliberations was an agreement reached with three groups of employees: management, confidential and those represented by the Placer Public Employees Organization. In return for a no-layoff pledge, employees in those groups agreed to accept a 5 percent pay reduction through 12 unpaid days off for the fiscal year that began July 1. On Sept. 8, the Board of Supervisors adopted the county?s ?last, best and final offer? for a memorandum of understanding with the Placer County Deputy Sheriff?s Association that contained concessions comparable to those accepted by the other three employee groups. The county reached a tentative agreement with the negotiating team in August, but the association?s members later voted to reject it. I am a retired police sergeant and strong supporter of law enforcement, but I joined the other four board members in imposing terms of the county?s final offer. We had no choice, because the savings it contains are an integral part of our budget-balancing plan. Placer County continues to be in much better shape than most counties and cities in California. We set aside reserve funds when times were good, and were quick to trim spending when we saw storm clouds gathering about three years ago. We put a hiring freeze in place about two years ago and reduced spending for travel, transportation, extra help, overtime and professional services. The county also has postponed some capital projects, but continues to make progress on such critical projects as the new jail being built at the Bill Santucci Justice Center in Roseville. Seeing work begin on the new jail is reassuring, because it is a clear sign that Placer County has successfully weathered the challenges posed by both the economic downturn and state budget crisis. Additional budget challenges undoubtedly will face us over the next few years, but we are well prepared to deal with them. ?Rocky? Rockholm is chairman of the Placer County Board of Supervisors