State

Stanislaus County supervisors approve 9 more layoffs

Nine more employees soon will lose their jobs, Stanislaus County leaders decided Tuesday in the latest round of layoffs.

Having agreed to terminate 77 workers just last week, county supervisors seemed to agonize before Tuesday's unanimous vote to lay off five employees in the public defender's office and four more working for the assessor. Supervisor Jeff Grover was absent.

It probably didn't help that the only attorney on the chopping block, deputy public defender Aric Bright, gave them a good look at what they're letting go. He spoke about his love for his job and passion for helping underdog clients — whose cases might be handed to higher-priced private attorneys if his office can't handle demand.

"I'm not asking you to print more money," Bright said. "I'm just asking you not to throw it out the door."

He handles about 785 cases, almost twice the amount recommended by state and national bar associations for effective representation, according to a report.

Assessor Doug Harms essentially said that with more resources, his office would bring the county more money. Yet he lost an auditor-appraiser and three support staff Tuesday.

All 27 county departments are under strict orders to slash costs by 9 percent, and at least 11 have resorted or will resort to layoffs. Combined with a 5 percent countywide pay reduction, the county still is staring at a $10 million deficit — which would be $20 million if not for reserves, County Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson said.

Bright's plea seemed to resonate with supervisors, who appeared aware that shedding public defenders could very well backfire. Some leaders promised to keep a careful eye on court backups, suggesting they eventually could reverse Tuesday's decision.

That seemed to wear on Robinson's patience. The normally soft-spoken executive's voice began to rise after supervisors said they would watch for "adverse effects."

"I guarantee you this will have adverse effects," Robinson said, as did layoffs approved last week and over the past couple of years. And supervisors are expected to tell dozens more in coming weeks that they'll have to go elsewhere for paychecks. Leaders can expect even more layoffs during budget talks about this time next year, Robinson said.

"No action before you in the next 15 months is not going to have an adverse effect on the people of this community, day in and day out, and there is nothing we can do about it," Robinson said. "There is no practical solution. There is no good solution. There are no good outlooks."

In coming weeks, leaders will weigh the fire danger of letting grass in some parks die, Robinson said in a separate presentation of the county's third-quarter financial status.

County jails already have turned out inmates to curb costs, and likely will again, Robinson said. Streets will see fewer deputies and animal control officers; courtrooms, fewer prosecutors; and drug addicts, fewer programs, Robinson said.

Several agencies likely will open late or close early, including the animal shelter, libraries and tax offices, he said. And crews won't be able to do as many road projects, he said.

"Today's actions do not constitute the final solution," Robinson warned, saying he would "anticipate an additional $20 million in cuts."

Supervisor Bill O'Brien said, "The grim picture seems to be getting grimmer every time we discuss it. There's just no money."

Supervisor Jim DeMartini said it's "disturbing" that the county's general liability fund has tripled since July 2008 to $7 million; a report places much of the blame on increasing claims and lawsuits against the Sheriff's Department.

"That's certainly coming at a very bad time," DeMartini said.

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

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