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County looks at cost-cutting options

Voluntary time off, office closures being discussed
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Rebuffed by its employees’ union over a proposal to close Placer County offices for four days at Christmas, the Board of Supervisors will be discussing new options Tuesday that include voluntary, unpaid time off by workers to help close a looming $7.8 million deficit. Supervisors have scheduled time at Tuesday’s meeting to “begin a conversation on future cost-cutting measures” that could include the idea of employees taking four unpaid days off starting Dec. 26, county information officer Anita Yoder said. Dec. 26 is a Friday and would give many workers a four-day weekend. Other days up for discussion would be: Friday, Feb. 13 — which would provide employees with another four-day weekend preceding the Feb. 16 Presidents Day holiday; April 13, which falls on Easter Monday; and Friday, May 22, which would provide a four-day Memorial Day weekend. And while the board discussion will revolve around unpaid furloughs and office closures those days, Auburn-area Supervisor Jim Holmes said that the proposal needs a buy-in from the Placer Public Employees Organization. One alternative would be employees voluntary taking the four days off, he said. “We’ll have those options among those on the table,” Holmes said. Holmes, the current board chairman, said that the county is anticipating an $8 million deficit this year. The board approved an $865 million spending plan in September. Holmes attended the California Association of Counties annual meeting this past week in San Diego and said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger discussed the state’s budget deficit of $11.5 billion. “His message was ‘help me to help you,’ to put pressure on the Legislature to solve budget problems,” Holmes said. Supervisors ran into a hornet’s nest of opposition from its union after the idea of the four-day Christmas closing was broached with leadership. Union business manager Chuck Thiel said the action would be viewed as an illegal breach of the agreement it signed two years ago. Supervisors met in closed session after union members spoke against the Christmas closing proposal but made no decision other than giving direction to staff. Thiel later issued a statement on the union Web site saying that a new “modified plan” called for spreading out the four days through May. Thiel didn’t return phone calls this week but stated on the Web site that the new proposal “is a far cry from the CEO’s plan of wiping out a week’s pay at Christmas.” Thiel said union attorneys would review the latest plan. A county estimate is that the four-day closure would save from $1.5 million to $2 million. After last week’s board meeting, CEO Tom Miller issued a statement saying the priority will be to “rebalance this year’s budget while minimizing the reductions in service to our communities.” Outside North Auburn’s Larry Oddo Finance Administration Building, Duane Wilson and Allison Miller said they weren’t aware of the furlough wrangle but had just picked up information on appealing a $25,000 increase in their property assessment. Lowered assessments are having an impact on property tax revenues with the county. “While property values are going down, our appraisal was raised,” Wilson said. “It seems as if you can’t do that in a falling market.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com.