State

Stanislaus County cuts payroll 6% from year before

Dismissing hundreds of employees helped shave nearly $16 million from Stanislaus County's payroll last year, its first decline in recent history. But many more layoffs are coming, even if workers accept 5 percent pay cuts.

A Bee analysis shows average yearly pay for full-time county workers also dropped from 2008 to 2009, from $58,733 to $57,056, as furloughs kicked in while the recession deepened. Previously, average pay had climbed steadily over the years, up from $50,842 in 2005.

The number of county employees making more than $100,000 also decreased, from 239 in 2008 to 217 in 2009. Combined overtime pay for those elite employees was cut by more than half in the same time frame, from $827,339 to $391,400.

Virtually all public agencies are shedding jobs to save money, said Max Neiman, senior fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California. The institute is expected to release a study this week showing that most people believe the state's problems can be solved by cutting spending, he said.

"It's a pretty nasty situation," Neiman said. "(People think,) 'If we just get rid of the waste, fraud and abuse from all of these lazy government employees who are a drain on the payroll, everyone will work harder and smarter and it's going to be just fine.' But that's just not the case."

The $15.7 million drop in the county's total payroll amounts to 6.3 percent from an all-time high of $251 million the year before. But that hefty decrease didn't come close to closing a $40 million gap between revenue and expenses, so supervisors turned to reserves and other savings.

And they're predicting an additional $23.5 million shortfall in the fiscal year starting July 1. Details of a mass layoff are expected to emerge in April.

Doctors dominate top 10

Meanwhile, seven of Stanislaus County's top 10 highest earners are doctors, a ratio unchanged from the previous year.

Oncologist Robert Williams was paid $570,600 in 2009, up from $557,000 in 2008. He is the top paid county employee by far, outdoing the second-highest by about $250,000 in each of the past two years.

Three psychiatrists made the county's top 10 list both years, each receiving more than their boss, Denise Hunt, director of Behavior Health and Recovery Services. "My mother told me to go to medical school," she said.

Hunt said it's difficult to attract and retain physician specialists, and that their pay is driven by the market. "They are the only people who can do the job they do," Hunt said.

Rick Robinson, the county's chief executive officer, said, "If we're going to hire responsible, competent people, we do have to pay a competitive wage."

County administrators warned early this month they may be forced to lay off 239 employees, though 72 could be saved if unions agree to 5 percent pay cuts. Upward of 100 more might be spared by a retirement board's move Monday to lessen the county's pension-fund liability.

Sheriff's officers continue to capitalize on overtime far more than any of the county's 26 other departments; four deputies and one sergeant each added more than $30,000 to their regular paychecks last year. But they were the exception; a department crackdown drastically reduced officers claiming excessive overtime from the year before.

The Bee's analysis shows that the county reduced its "extra help" staff, including part-time and temporary employees, in the past two years — by 15.4 percent in 2008 and an additional 10.8 percent in 2009, for a combined loss of 205 positions. But those who remained received more on average than in previous years — 10 percent more in 2008 and 3.4 percent more in 2009.

Relying on extra help isn't a countywide policy, Robinson said. "It's not a conscious decision on the sixth floor" at Tenth Street Place, his administrative offices, he said. "But some departments may be finding ways to make up for losses."

By comparison, the county eliminated 155 full-time positions in those two years, and average full-time pay dropped by 3 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Other notes from the Bee analysis:

Psychiatrist Hiep Voquy pulled down just shy of $50,000 in 2008 overtime, bringing his total compensation to nearly $300,000. Fellow psychiatrist Tomonori Fukui made $37,400 in overtime that year. Both provided on-call help to Doctors Behavioral Health Center while it hired staff.

With staffing stabilized in 2009, overtime for Voquy and Fukui respectively dropped to $6,900 and $12,400.

Forensic pathologist Sungook Baik, hired in 2007 to perform autopsies in the coroner's office, made more than $300,000 in both 2008 and 2009 and was the county's second-highest paid employee both years.

Thanks to furloughs and retirements, combined pay for all employees making more than $100,000 dropped from $32.5 million in 2008 to $29.3 million in 2009.

Two department heads on the county's top-10 list for 2008, former County Counsel Michael Krausnick and for- mer Planning Director Ron Freitas, retired. The next year, combined pay for those in the top 10 dropped from $3 million to $2.8 million.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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