A proposed change in Stanislaus County's budget approach might reward thrifty departments in the long run, but the county still could be forced to lay off as many as 239 employees.
Drastic cuts could result in fewer substance abuse programs, road projects and deputies on patrol. Libraries might go dark more often, parks would get less care and the Honor Farm could close.
Options will be made known publicly at this morning's Board of Supervisors meeting, though managers have been wrestling with shrinking dollars for two years. Despite having eliminated 642 positions and having cut millions, they're facing an additional $23.5 million deficit in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Amid the melancholy is a budget strategy that eventually should save the county's bacon, Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson said Monday.
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Instead of asking how much the county's 27 departments want to spend, they will simply be told what they're getting. The amount will be 8 percent to 10 percent less than they're used to, a painful reality that surely will result in fewer services and employees.
But with the pain comes a promise.
If a given department lives within its means, it gets to keep 75 percent of the savings. Before, any leftover money would go straight to the county's general fund, providing little incentive for savings strategies.
"In the simplest sense, we're trying to create a higher level of responsibility and reward those departments that are more cost-efficient," Robinson said.
But nobody is looking forward to that immediate cut of up to 10 percent, which will produce April layoff notices.
An 8 percent reduction equates to about 118 layoffs. If the county is ordered to pay an extra $22 million in higher retirement costs, managers might have to lay off an additional 121 workers, a report reads. Both hits could result in 239 pink slips, leaving the county's work force at about 3,730.
The county hopes to pay "only" $12 million more in retirement costs. The decision will be up to the Stanislaus County Employees' Retirement Association.
Reducing everyone's pay by 5 percent could save 72 jobs. If departments stay within their respective budgets, carryover money could preserve 11 more jobs, according to Robinson's chart.
Some departments might find it impossible to slash 8 percent and adhere to government mandates. For example, the county can't cancel elections or let all criminals go free or refuse to treat poor patients who need medical care.
Unions have yet to settle on pay reductions. Robinson will brief supervisors about ongoing negotiations behind closed doors after today's meeting.
Elected department executives -- Sheriff Adam Christianson, District Attorney Birgit Fladager, Assessor Doug Harms, Auditor-Controller Larry Haugh, Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan and Treasurer-Tax Collector Gordon Ford -- won't get raises. They make from 2.7 percent to 10.8 percent less than the average from eight comparable counties, and supervisors promised two years ago to correct "inequities" before June. But the department heads agreed to let it ride "until the county's financial situation has improved," Robinson said in a report.
Stanislaus County supervisors are scheduled to meet today at 9 a.m. in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.