Supervisors reverse course on county budget
Plumas County employees will not be taking Fridays off after all.
Two weeks after most of the cuts and concessions in the county’s 2011-12 budget appeared to be set in stone, the Board of Supervisors changed course.
Instead of instituting furloughs to the county’s general fund employees, the supervisors voted unanimously to reduce the county’s contribution to employees’ retirement.
The change from the Aug. 16 furlough decision will save the county about $200,000 less, but it will spread the cuts wider and more evenly among the county’s workers.
Under the furlough plan, the county would have saved roughly $400,000 by having general fund employees work 36 hours per week instead of 40.
The plan called for the employees affected to work four nine-hour days with Fridays off.
Many of the county’s department heads argued their departments should be exempt from the furlough plan for various reasons.
As a result, only 23 percent of the county workers would ultimately be taking the 10 percent pay cut to balance the budget.
After weeks of listening to complaints, the supervisors announced their plan change at the Tuesday, Sept. 6, meeting.
But they didn’t seem too happy about the process.
Supervisors Lori Simpson and Robert Meacher, who are on the budget committee, didn’t try to hide their frustration.
“It got ridiculous — a three-ring circus,” Simpson said. “All summer it was a meeting every day about who couldn’t do this, who couldn’t do that.
“Some department heads contacted me and they were going to protest the cuts. It just got to the point where, I don’t know. … We can’t make everyone happy.”
The plan approved Sept. 6 would reduce the county’s current 7 percent contribution to the employees’ retirement fund to 3 percent.
The supervisors voted to take $200,000 from the county’s reserve fund to make up for the lost savings that would have come from the furlough plan.
The sheriff’s office, which had $400,000 left over from last year’s budget, is exempt from retirement cuts under the current plan.
In exchange, the sheriff pledged to contribute $250,000 from his budget to the general fund. The board said the sheriff’s office would be exempt from retirement cuts only for this fiscal year.
Meacher said other departments asked why the sheriff’s office wasn’t included in the pay cuts.
“We had some push-back that why didn’t the sheriff have to participate in these alternatives?” Meacher said. “The $250,000 offered by the sheriff’s department this year is 41 percent more than required in his budget by the recommended 4 percent (retirement fund cut).”
Meacher said that without the sheriff’s $250,000 contribution, county workers likely would face 5 percent cuts.
The cuts are still subject to approval by the county employees’ respective unions.
The board urged the unions to approve the cuts as soon as Oct. 1.
“The longer it takes, that 4 percent is going to go higher, or it’s going to last longer,” Supervisor Jon Kennedy said.
The board is expected to adopt the county budget at its Sept. 20 meeting.
In an unexpected motion, Meacher moved that the board approve (to the extent permissible by law) a $1 million transfer from the county’s Mental Health Department reserves to a new account.
The account would be used to provide mental health services related to inmates being transferred to Plumas County by the state under AB 109. The county is scheduled to begin housing state inmates Oct. 1.
The board voted quickly and unanimously to approve the transfer.
According to County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad, the county has eliminated 111 positions since the recession began.
Those lost jobs translate into about $5.5 million less in the county payroll each year.
Other notable statistics:
—The general fund budget is $21,926,883, which is about $4 million less than when the recession began.
—Assessed valuation of property in the county is down 5.3 percent from last year. That is the biggest decline by any county in the state.
—Plumas County is still one of the better local employers, with 41 employees earning more than $80,000 annually.
In the county’s ongoing battle against the state’s proposed watermaster fee increase, the board voted to issue a Public Records Act request to the California Department of Water Resources.
The request is an attempt to obtain the state’s watermaster service records.
The state’s proposed rate increase could leave some ranchers with a 500 percent increase in fees.
“Some of the main things we are looking for are things like time sheets,” said Brian Morris, general manager of the Plumas County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.
“We want to see whether the numbers that are being used in the budget, and in turn are used to bill the users, really reflect the work that is historically done on the ground.”
The board authorized a new contract for fair manager John Steffanic.
Steffanic has agreed to take a 50 percent pay cut as part of the county’s budget cuts. The details of the new contract have yet to be finalized.