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Placer cutting $millions but more savings sought

Managers lauded for leadership; union willing to talk
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With Placer County supervisors’ approval of several cost-cutting measures to help stave off a projected $18.6 million deficit, the panel’s chairman said challenges still lie ahead. Last Tuesday, supervisors OK’d a series of savings to help shore up a predicted funding shortfall for the next fiscal year starting in July. A total of $1.6 million came from an agreement worked out during staff meetings CEO Tom Miller held with mostly upper-level and mid-level management staff. The savings are intended to help steer the county away from layoffs. Board Chairman Rocky Rockholm said that agreement shows leadership by both Miller and management staff in reducing labor costs while protecting jobs. Supervisors also agreed to spend $4 million in county reserve funds to help balance the budget next year. “Thanks to the past boards that set aside reserves for a rainy day and the cost-cutting actions we’ve already taken, Placer County is in much better shape than many jurisdictions around us,” Rockholm said. “However the rainy days are coming – the next few years will be very challenging.” After Tuesday’s meeting, the business representative for the county’s largest union – the Placer Public Employees Organization – responded that his organization would welcome an opportunity to discuss cost-saving options to avert layoffs. “If the county intends to lay off up to 265 employees, the PPEO is willing to begin layoff impact bargaining immediately,” Business Representative Chuck Thiel said in letter released on the union Web site. But Thiel said the union still sees other options that would eliminate or reduce the need for mandatory time off. A key option would be early-retirement incentives to reduce ongoing operating costs and eliminate continued use of reserves in future years, he said. To save the $1.6 million, the 300 employees in mostly management positions agreed to accept 12 unpaid days off and a 2.5 percent cap on a cost-of-living increase planned for November. The cost-of-living increase could have gone as high as 5 percent. The group also includes staff not considered management but who have access to confidential labor information. The CEO’s office is estimating management concessions will make up about 24 percent of labor cost adjustments it says is needed to balance the 2009-10 budget. The board directed the county management team to continue discussions with the union on adjustments similar to what management staff has agreed to. Staff was also asked Tuesday to meet with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association on potential savings. Supervisors agreed to establish a cost-saving task force to make recommendations on more than 200 suggestions submitted by management and confidential employees. Additionally, the early draft of next year’s budget will reflect $4.6 million in reductions for non-employee related departmental expenses, as well as other budget adjustments. As part of Tuesday’s discussions, the board was faced with a $1.5 million funding shortfall related to purchase of a new sheriff’s helicopter. The board made no decision and asked staff to return with more information on options the county has to complete payments on the helicopter. The board also took no action on a staff option to limit the number of take-home vehicles available to the sheriff’s department. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.