County issues layoff notices

Dan McDonald
Staff Writer

The hard decisions have been made.

After weeks of discussion and weighing alternatives, the Plumas County Board of Supervisors voted to begin laying off county workers.

“I think we have to issue some pink slips today,” Supervisor Robert Meacher said, prior to the board voting unanimously to do so. “We are doing this with the hope that perhaps we can turn it around.”

Meacher led the board and county department heads through a detailed list of recommended cuts during the Tuesday, Aug. 2, meeting.

In addition to layoffs, which require 30 days’ notice, the board voted to direct all county general-fund departments to initiate furloughs immediately.

The county took these steps to help close a $1.8 million budget deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“We’ve got to start being realistic about the (budget) situation nationally,” Board Chairwoman Lori Simpson said. “The problem has come to roost locally and we have to step up and do something.”

County Budget Officer Jack Ingstad said the layoffs will save the county $272,345.

The county has cut 105 positions since the recession began.

County departments targeted for cuts are the fair, facility services, information technology, senior services, library, code enforcement, county administrative office and records management.

Fair operations, which has been affected by state budget cuts, received layoff notices for two of its three full-time staff, including fair manager John Steffanic.

“We are not upset with getting layoff notices. We are more concerned with how the fair will operate,” Steffanic said prior to the board’s vote. “This is more about the quality of the fair.”

The layoff notices will not affect this summer’s fair. However, the board has stated a reorganization of the fair operations is necessary due to the funding cuts from state.

Steffanic warned that cutting full-time fair staff would have consequences.

“The product (fair) is going to fall apart very fast and we are going to lose our infrastructure and our product,” Steffanic told the board. “And if the state ever does come back (with funding) — and I’m sure it will in the next year or two — If we are not ready with our infrastructure, we are going to be starting at the bottom of the curve.”

Joe Wilson, director of facilities, will lose a position in his department.

“It does suck,” Wilson said bluntly. “And I understand where the county is at. I think all of the departments are going to feel the pain. And we will make adjustments as needed in order to stretch our already thin staff.”

The county’s administrative office will lose its administrative assistant position.

Records management will lose its records coordinator.

Information technology will have a position cut by 75 percent.

Code enforcement will lose half a position. Libraries in Chester, Greenville and Portola will have positions cut by 25 percent.

Although furloughs were set to start immediately, they are still at the discretion of the respective department heads.

The sheriff’s office has agreed to cut between $250,000 and $300,000.

The county is hoping to save about $700,000 through concessions by general-fund employees.

Employee unions and the county have been negotiating for weeks. The county is asking for general-fund employees to take a 7- to 10-percent cut.

The cuts could come in the form of reduced workweeks (four nine-hour days with Fridays off) or a reduced county contribution to their retirement fund, or possibly some of both.

A public hearing on the budget cuts is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 16. The final budget is scheduled for adoption Sept. 6.

Other possible reductions that could be enacted include cuts to employee travel and cellphone use, pay cuts for department heads and cuts to community development.

The county has completely cut its funding of non-county organizations, including the chambers of commerce, the visitors bureau, economic development and Plumas Arts.

Before any cuts were made, the county took $600,000 from its $2 million reserve fund.

Meacher emphasized that the budget remains a “work in progress.”

He noted that many of the proposed cuts are a “one-time” fix.

“We will all be in here again next year looking at, very likely, having to cut 7 to 10 percent if this economy doesn’t turn around,” Meacher said. “And I don’t think anybody in this room has the confidence that it will.”


Fair alternative

Supervisors Simpson and Jon Kennedy met with Steffanic and fair board member Thelma Olson on Aug. 3 to develop alternatives to the layoff notices and reductions approved by the supervisors.

Kennedy said, “We penciled out a plan that makes sense. It’s about deciding priorities.”

Essentially, the plan calls for fair staff reductions instead of layoffs. Steffanic would take a 50-percent pay cut and the fair’s office manager and maintenance supervisor would take 10-percent cuts.

Kennedy said it was important to preserve the revenue-producing potential of the fairgrounds and maintained the layoffs approved Aug. 2 would ultimately lead to eroded services. He said such erosion would hinder development of the facility as an event venue.

Kennedy and Simpson were to present their plan to the full board at its Aug. 9 meeting.


Supervisors did not vote themselves a raise

In an attempt to quash a rumor, Simpson addressed the public during the Aug. 2 meeting.

“There was a rumor that at the (July 19) board meeting we voted ourselves a raise,” Simpson said. “That was totally untrue.”

Under a 2002 ordinance, the board does get a cost of living adjustment that goes into effect July 1 each year. A newly elected supervisor earned $37,500 in 2002.

This year, the adjustment resulted in a 3.1-percent pay increase. However, since the increase is tied to the California Consumer Price Index, the board actually took a pay cut in 2009.

“The purpose of the ordinance was to take the politics out of it,” Meacher said. “People keep calling it a raise, when it’s a cost of living adjustment. We are making no more than we did in 2002. It’s a cost of living adjustment, and that’s it.”

The public could vote to remove the ordinance, but it would only go into effect for new supervisors.

Simpson emphasized that the supervisors are prepared to take “substantial cuts” along with the rest of the county’s employees.

One of the budget committees’ recommendations called for a 5-percent pay cut for the supervisors. That cut has not come to a vote.

“I’m going to speak for myself, but I think also for the rest of the board: We didn’t run for this job for the money,” Simpson said. “We ran to make a difference and try to solve problems. And I think that’s what we do.”


Additional reporting by Mona Hill.


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