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Prudent planning, cost-cutting key to county success

ANOTHER VIEW
By: Thomas M. Miller, Placer Coounty chief executive officer
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The board of supervisors, county budget team, department heads and many employees have worked to help the Placer County weather the recession and state budget crisis. Under board leadership, our priorities have been preserving public services, avoiding layoffs if at all possible and continuing to plan for a stable future. The county welcomes public participation and scrutiny of our budget process. Key decisions on the 2010-11 budget will be made by the board at regular meetings and workshops in the coming months. We encourage residents to stay informed and provide input. Placer County is in better shape than many cities and counties because several years ago it responded quickly to the recession and state budget crisis, and understood our budget challenges would last for several years. The board authorized reductions in department budgets, travel, extra-help employees, overtime and contract services, and moved to cut costs in the following key areas: The county’s workforce is significantly smaller today because the board approved a hiring freeze several years ago. Since 2007, the board has reduced the workforce by 10 percent. One reason the county has not needed to lay off employees is downsizing through retirements and other attrition. The only exception is seven building inspectors laid off in response to the slowdown of the construction industry. Unfortunately, it may be necessary to consider additional layoffs next fiscal year due to the continued lack of development-related work. Most Placer County employees agreed to take 12 unpaid days off in return for a no-layoff pledge this year. Management employees already have agreed to nine unpaid days off, no cost-of-living increase and a larger share of health care costs next fiscal year with the understanding the county cannot guarantee there will be no layoffs. Some employees who provide emergency-response and other essential services do work on furlough days, but they are paid for their work. By cutting costs, Placer County has kept budgets balanced as revenues drop, and ended each fiscal year with a healthy balance that can be carried over to the following year. Placer County has considered the golden-handshake option. That approach would produce short-term savings, but would increase future funding liabilities. The county has created a Cost Savings Task Force that is reviewing hundreds of ideas submitted by employees for reducing expenditures. The county continues to make progress on critical projects such as construction of a new jail and the Highway 65-Sunset Boulevard interchange, both necessary to provide for public safety and meet our traveling public’s needs. Moreover, much of the funds spent on these projects must be spent on capital projects and cannot be spent on labor costs. Placer County also is making significant progress in meeting long-term financial obligations. Each year, for instance, we set aside funds for existing and future retiree health care costs. I want to emphasize again that we welcome public input, and encourage residents to stay informed. Residents can attend board meetings, including budget workshops scheduled for early August. Online, they can watch live video or recordings of board meetings and find out for themselves how the board addresses budget and other issues. Budget reports to the board and other budget documents also are available online at www.placer.ca.gov.