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Supervisors OK mandatory 4-day furlough

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County supervisors acted Tuesday to shore up a projected $9.6-million loss in revenue this year with a series of cost-cutting measures that includes a mandatory four-day furlough program for employees. The furlough program – mandatory time off intended to save $2 million – will be combined with use of $1.75 million in reserves, a $1.15 million road fund contribution cancellation, savings from 20 more vacant and retirement positions ($1.51 million) and cuts in services and supplies ($1.38 million) to reduce funding needs by $7.79 million. The furlough plan means county offices will close Dec. 26, Feb. 13, April 13 and May 22. An initial plan to close county offices for four days during the Christmas week was rebuffed by Placer Public Employees Organization union officials, who threatened legal action. Union business manager Chuck Thiel thanked the Board of Supervisors for modifying the initial plan to ensure workers didn’t suffer financial hardship at Christmas. But Thiel added that there were still legal questions surrounding about the stretched-out furlough plan. The union would agree to voluntary time off without pay for county employees but the board is “gambling with about $2 million” by proceeding with its mandatory furlough plan, he said. A union-county partnership on voluntary time off saved 10 jobs during the last downturn, Thiel said, inviting supervisors to “partner in a collaborative effort to cut costs.” The vote was unanimous by the board to approve the mandatory furlough ordinance. County CEO’s office financial managers had painted a grim portrait of county finances because of lowered expectations for property tax and sales tax revenues and a global recession that has no indications of letting up. “Obviously, we don’t live in isolation and there are implications for Placer County,” Assistant County Executive Holly Heinzen said, adding that the county needs to take decisive action. Analyst Jeff Bell said that the county has adopted conservative budgets the past two years but the economic downturn of the last few months has been worse than anticipated. The county adopted an $865 million spending plan but is now facing projected revenue shortfalls of $5 million in property tax, $1.7 million in public safety revenues, $1.6 million from investments and $1.2 million from sales tax receipts. The county also expects to reduce expenditures through keeping vacant positions open in public safety departments, including $810,000 from non-sworn jobs with the Sheriff’s Department. With the savings from unfilled positions and furloughs, the county will pay $9.5 million more this year in salaries and benefits to its 2,200 employees – down from an increase of $20.2 million last year and $23.8 million the year before. Wages and benefits are projected to increase $21.4 million next year while other expenditures are due to drop by $11.1 million. With a dismal financial picture to work from, Supervisor Robert Weygandt said that he could even see “putting on the table” a reduction next year in the amount of money apportioned for open space preservation. This year, the total allocation is $1.2 million. Weygandt indicated that salaries may have to be cut in the future to balance the budget. “We’ve looked at the alternatives to spread the pain across programs and can’t see a way to reductions without reducing salaries,” he said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.