State

Stanislaus County says 9 to lose jobs in cutbacks

The next round of layoffs in Stanislaus County government will hit the assessor's and public defender's offices, shaving nine positions and leaving those departments shorthanded for increasing workloads, according to a county report.

The cost-cutting proposals, which will save the county a total of about $900,000 for the fiscal 2010-2011 year, are heading to the Board of Supervisors for approval Tuesday.

Last week, the board signed off on 52 layoffs in the Sheriff's Department and 25 in the library system.

County Chief Executive Rick Robinson said while the cuts are severe, the budget reductions are necessary to deal with declining revenue and a flailing economy.

"Our resources are so slim," Robinson said. "We're not the federal government where we spend money we don't have, and we're not the state government where we pass on the responsibility to someone else."

The cuts are part of an effort to slash $23 million in spending from the county's $250 million general fund.

The assessor's office is submitting a proposed budget of about $5.3 million for the next fiscal year, about $388,000 less than this year.

The assessor's proposal includes laying off an auditor-appraiser and three support staff positions. The proposal also eliminates a vacant support staff position and doesn't fund a vacant manager's position.

The layoffs will leave the department with 54 employees, a 21 percent drop in staffing from four years ago.

No cuts to office's workload

The department, however, has not seen a decline in workload, as low housing prices are causing many properties to change hands.

Changes in property ownership are 4.1 percent higher than four years ago. Building permits are on the rise from last year. Residents also are asking the assessor's office to review their properties and record declines in their values.

According to the proposal, the staff reductions will result in many taxpayers not getting fair assessments because of the department's inability to respond to requests.

"I think that might be an exaggeration," said Robinson, who noted the department will only lose one appraiser. "We're going to have to become more efficient in providing services."

The public defender's office is submitting a proposed budget of about $5.7 million for the next fiscal year, about $500,000 less than this year.

The public defender's proposal includes laying off an attorney, a supervising legal clerk, an account clerk and two investigators. The department will have experienced a 17 percent staff reduction over the past two years, and a 23 percent staff reduction in the past seven years.

The staff cuts would leave the department, which handles about 15,000 cases each year, with 40 full-time employees.

Defender could get swamped

The public defender's office would be forced to refuse cases if it becomes overloaded and can't provide competent legal representation, according to the proposal. This will force the Stanislaus County Superior Court to appoint private legal counsel, which will result in substantial costs.

"The reality is we simply don't have the resources to deliver the level of service we have traditionally provided in the past," Robinson said. "We have an expectation that our departments will manage their resources to the best of their ability."

He said the county has staggered the department budget proposals to grant them enough time to analyze the numbers and implement the cuts.

It could take departments about two months to notify employees and adjust to the reductions. He said they expect to see other departments submit proposals with layoffs, but not all of them will cut jobs.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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