Placer County layoffs loom as revenues drop

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s budget blues are continuing with no end in sight and layoffs again in the picture. The county is moving forward with a budget plan for 2010-11 that is down 5.7 percent from this year. Supervisors approved a $739 million budget blueprint that that the board and staff will fine-tune during the summer before final passage in September. Jeff Bell, a budget analyst for the county, told supervisors that it will be “a long, hot summer” because of the distinct possibility of continuing wrangles over a projected $18 billion to $21 billion deficit at the state level. The county board will be meeting Aug. 18 and 19 for a comprehensive budget review. But for the time being, the county has a proposed budget that has apparently shored up what was anticipated to be a $23.6 million shortfall. Placer County is grappling with a double-digit drop in sales tax revenue – down 18 percent to $8.9 million from $10.9 million – and a 5 percent decrease in property taxes from $93.9 million to $89.1 million. That has led to unpaid furlough days, a hiring freeze, office closures and the continuing deployment of reserves to help stave off layoffs. Five more furlough days are part of the coming year’s proposed budget. So is the hiring freeze. But layoffs are also being considered. Twelve layoffs are being considered in the coming fiscal year, which starts in July. The county has laid off 7 people over the past two years, with the majority of the jobs lost in the planning and building divisions. The county has 2,434 employees and has left just more than 330 positions unfilled after retirements or other departures. County CEO Tom Miller said that layoffs are regrettable but the continuing economic slowdown has lowered revenue for discretionary spending by $18 million and reduced the county’s workload as well. And there’s apparently no end in sight. Holly Heinzen, assistant county executive officer, told the board that the economic climate continues to be an uncertain one. One of the keys for a move back toward revenue recovery would be for property taxes to start rising. But with 4,551 of the 174,000 properties in the county actively being appealed with the Assessor’s Office, it could be 18 months to a year before an uptick in total property values, she said. (Note: This article includes corrected information on the number of workers Placer County has laid off in the past two years).