Stanislaus County supervisors "with heavy hearts" laid off four more building division employees Tuesday, leaving less than half of that work group's staff from two years ago.
"We have no choice," said Supervisor Bill O'Brien.
The action serves as a sober prelude to the county's midyear budget report scheduled for the March 2 Board of Supervisors meeting. Rick Robinson, the county's chief executive, said officials will unveil strategies to correct a deficit of more than $20 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Declines in sales and property taxes combined with increased retirement obligations "are making the development of a balanced and sustainable 2010-11 budget very, very challenging," Robinson said.
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The county's building division, which issues permits and conducts inspections, will have 14 employees as of March 27, down from 34 in 2008. The agency has laid off staff in each of the past three years and supports itself with fees.
"We are financially dependent on who walks in the door" and what business they bring, said Kirk Ford, the county's community development director. His staff has seen about 30 percent less business this year compared with this time last year, he said. Employee costs, by contrast, have increased 55 percent since 2000, Ford said.
County leaders have eliminated 642 positions in about 30 months. They plugged a $40 million deficit last year largely with reserves and savings from belt-tightening the year before.
A consulting firm is expected to issue recommendations next month on whether Ford's staff should merge with Modesto's building department.