Layoffs at Merced County landfills put on hold

Decision will wait for new waste director's assessment

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 24, 2013 

— More than a dozen landfill employees at risk of losing their jobs because of proposed layoffs are safe — at least for now.

The Merced County Association of Governments voted Thursday to adopt the 2013-14 operating budget of the county's two landfills without laying off any employees or selling extra equipment.

Marjie Kirn, MCAG executive director, announced the hiring of a new regional waste management director, filling a seat that became vacant after the former director, Sam Chandler, resigned in February.

After Chandler's departure, MCAG officials hired a consultant to evaluate the landfills. The consultant recommended auctioning some equipment and cutting 13 landfill jobs, a 30 percent reduction. The consultant was paid $60,000.

Thursday's unanimous vote doesn't guarantee there won't be layoffs at the landfills, officials said. It did, however, put a "12-month status quo" on the situation until the new director can get oriented.

"Once we get the regional director on board, then he will reassess that situation and make his recommendation to you of what is actually necessary at both landfills," Kirn said.

The new director, Brooks Stayer from Tulare County, is scheduled to begin July 1.

Kirn said Stayer would be required to report back to the governing board in six months, giving him enough time to look at the reports and consider the recommendations of the consultant.

"That still doesn't give him the authority to give a pink slip to anyone until it comes back here," said Merced Mayor Stan Thurston during the meeting Thursday.

Merced County Supervisor Jerry O'Banion said the decision gives employees time to plan.

"Another key is you are giving employees notice in case they want to find another job," O'Banion said. "The main thing is, let's get that second opinion on whether staff should be reduced and equipment sold."

In addition to adopting the budget, Kirn said contracts with Tuolumne County and Turlock to dispose of trash at the Highway 59 landfill are under way. Tuolumne County has been using that landfill for two years and will renew for five more. Turlock's contract would be for 10 years.

"The city of Turlock is a huge revenue generator for us," said Kirn, who estimated that the contract could bring as much tonnage as the city of Merced. "Revenue is crucial in making up for decreased tonnage."

Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta expressed concern about running out of space if Merced County's trash level increased.

"It's not that I object to it. I just wonder, will we have to purchase additional land for expansion if tonnage does go up?" he said.

Kirn said the contract has an "out clause" without a penalty if Merced County's tonnage goes up and the space is needed.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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