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County cuts could cause more layoffs

Interim County Executive Steven Szalay

Sacramento County’s budget situation for the 2011/2012 fiscal year could be described by the grammatically incorrect but accurate phrase “less bad.”

In other words, the county’s budget gap of $90 million is less severe than the $181 million shortfall it faced last year. But the current gap, which is likely to result in a wave of layoffs, is still grim.

County Interim Executive Officer Steven Szalay laid out budget details in a Friday morning press conference at the downtown county building on H Street. The county plans to cut 321 employee positions in its budget process, Szalay said.

“I’m very sad to have to have these service-level reductions,” he said. “They’re definitely going to hurt in all sectors of the county.”

The county expects to face cuts in nearly all departments, he added.

County officials said they have not yet calculated how many of the positions are currently filled by employees and how many are vacant. The number of filled positions, which will help the public understand how many layoffs there may be, will be released with the budget proposal in two weeks, Szalay said.

The county’s drop in revenues since the 2007/2008 fiscal year has been a central reason for the county’s poor financial state, Szalay said. Since then, the county’s revenues from property, sales and motor vehicle taxes have dropped by more than $100 million, he added.

The 321 positions do not include any positions from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s office, according to Szalay.

The $90 million gap consists of a roughly $70 million gap in the county’s general fund and cuts to the county from the state, according to county spokeswoman Chris Andis.

Szalay said the Sheriff’s Department will need to make $26 million in cuts. However, Sheriff Scott Jones said he is examining several funding sources and is confident he can pare down that number. He said he hopes to not make layoffs.

“All facets of the county have been devastated by cuts,” Jones said. “We are not alone in that.”

There is a bright spot in this year’s budget, according to Szalay. “We are making progress towards the goal of having current revenue pay for current services,” he said.

While Szalay proposed the budget, the Board of Supervisors will make all final budget decisions.

The number of actual layoffs that could result from the budget crunch may not be known for some time. The county applies a complex demotion process when it makes layoffs that can change the final number. Some workers may decide to retire.

The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors’ chambers at 700 H St. will be the site of the budget hearings, which are scheduled to begin the week of June 6. The hearings will be open to the public.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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