No layoffs, but county budget has lean staffing

John Dickey, Sun news service

Tight finances brought on a bout of budget angst Monday, as elected officials, department heads and Nevada County supervisors haggled over dollars and priorities in budget hearings.

Nevada County officials have proposed a $138.2 million budget for the 2003-3004 fiscal year, which begins July 1. That’s up a little more than 2 percent from the 2002-03 adopted budget of $135.2 million.

County officials said they have avoided layoffs by scaling back 47 positions since the last fiscal year and leaving future openings unfilled. Nevada County government is the county’s largest employer.

“We did everything we could to maintain the current level of spending, preserve reserves and have a balanced budget,” county Executive Officer Rick Haffey said.

The budget includes sharply higher costs for the Public Employees Retirement System, workers’ compensation premiums and group insurance.

But some officials questioned the financial juggling moves during hearings Monday.

Sheriff Keith Royal said $300,000 in positions will remain unfilled in next year’s budget, including two deputies, two correctional officers, one dispatcher and one administrative assistant.

With service calls increasing 9 percent, fewer employees would mean some lesser-priority calls may have to be handled by phone rather than by a deputy showing up, Royal said.

The overall sheriff’s budget is up from last year because of a better-paying contract for deputies, higher Public Employee Retirement System and insurance costs, the addition of the Animal Control unit to the sheriff’s office, and the inclusion of inmates’ medical costs to the sheriff’s budget.

Next year’s proposed sheriff’s budget is up 18 percent from the current fiscal year, reaching $19.9 million.

Haffey noted that even with unfilled positions, vacancies at the sheriff’s office are low by historical standards. When pay levels were lower, there would be six or seven deputy positions open and as many as 11 correctional officers positions unfilled.

The Community Development Agency budget was also scrutinized Monday after supervisors Peter Van Zant and Barbara Green questioned whether a behind-the-scenes policy shift wasn’t taking place because of the number of positions that would be vacant in the Code Compliance and Planning Department.

Two senior planner positions would be unfilled, as would four code compliance officers, according to Van Zant and Green.

“The biggest complaint in our community is growth, and here we’re cutting out our advanced planners,” Van Zant said.

Green said remaining planners would have to take over work from unfilled positions, leading to delays in plan reviews that would affect building projects.

Green called that a potential “train wreck.”

Planning Director Mark Tomich said the department would do its best to meet timelines.

“We’re all trying to do our part with a constrained budget,” Tomich said.

One of the remaining senior planners would spend half his time doing trails planning and the other half overseeing code compliance.

Jess Montoya, director of the Community Development Agency, said the Code Compliance Department would do well with four field inspectors as budgeted. The department has worked down its active caseload from 1,100 cases to 450 cases with 5.5 inspectors, Montoya said.

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