Hiring freeze combats Placers budget woes | SierraSun.com

Hiring freeze combats Placers budget woes

Placer County officials are tightening their belts to soften the financial blow expected in July when the county will face a $24 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year of 2008-2009.With revenues from property tax and sales tax slackening, and slashes in state funding expected, the county cannot continue to spend as it has in past years, said Placer County Executive Officer Tom Miller. According to a summary of the Placer County budget, the countys general fund for the fiscal year of 2007-2008 is set at $373 million.Were doing some prudent trimming at this stage to make sure we dont get further out of balance, Miller said.A hiring freeze is currently in effect throughout all of the countys departments, leaving 70 positions indefinitely vacant. By July, Miller said he expected more than 100 employees to retire or quit, which would leave enough vacant positions to save the county $5 to $6 million right off the bat.While the county is not currently hiring, Placer Supervisor Bruce Kranz said he did not foresee the county laying off any employees to make up for their dropping budget.Nothing works when you get layoffs, Kranz said. Theres lots of problems with that.The board of supervisors will be attending a budget workshop in March detailing next years budget. Kranz said the solution lies in prioritizing capital ventures and delaying projects or big expenditures.If you defer a project for a year, youre not going to impact families and lives and people, Kranz said.Miller said projects that could be delayed include the construction of a new jail in western Placer County and refurbishing the Burton Creek Justice Center near Tahoe City. The county, however, remains committed to funding infrastructure projects such as the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement Project.For Kranz, public safety, in the form of fire protection and law enforcement, is a top priority for spending.If it comes down to a priority situation, said Kranz. Im going to side, generally speaking, with public safety.

The drop in the housing market has reverberated throughout the economy and its taking its toll on the countys income received from property taxes.Property tax grew by eight percent last year, and 15 percent the year before. But this year has only seen a three percent increase in property tax revenues which is a positive trend, but still not enough to keep pace with inflation, Miller said.Placer County reassessed and lowered the value on 18,000 properties last year, said County Assessor Bruce Dear, which translated into a $10 million loss for property taxes, based on a one percent rate.Property tax revenue is a significant part of the income stream that funds the county general fund, Dear said. So anything that has a significant impact on the flow of property tax revenues does affect the countys ability to provide the mix of services.This year, the assessors office expects to lower the value for more than 35,000 properties. The vast majority of those properties are on the countys west slope. Tahoe is its own market place, Dear said. Timeshares are soft, but other properties have retained value because of the dynamics of supply and demand which right now for us is a good thing.Supervising Building Inspector Kirk Smith also said that Tahoes housing market is at a different level than the rest of the county. While the workload for the Tahoe office is looking similar to years past, Smith said the Auburn office has seen a drop in bigger permits for homes and new subdivisions that produce the most revenue.This area, up here, doesnt seem to slow down like other areas because were a resort community, Smith said.Two people have left the Tahoe City building office, Smith said, and since they cannot rehire, the remaining employees have a lot more on their plates.

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