County prepares to jettison jobs

Sonoma County government expects to eliminate 223 jobs, resulting in 63 layoffs, to help plug a $43 million gap in the county budget for the coming fiscal year.

Those preliminary numbers, released for a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, would cut the size of the county's workforce by almost 6 percent and touch nearly every department. The reductions account for about $25 million of the savings needed to balance the 2011-2012 county budget.

The plan would wipe out nearly all of the county's 240 vacant positions, leaving 19 open jobs when the fiscal year begins July 1. County officials insisted the reductions did not come solely by eliminating vacancies, though they were not able to give a precise breakdown of filled and vacant positions to be cut.

Previous estimates called for 300 to 500 jobs to be shed from the county's 3,800-member workforce and a much larger number of layoffs. Incentive-driven early retirements and other spending reductions, along with an increase in the fees charged by some departments, helped reduce the number of projected job losses somewhat, officials said.

"The initial estimate was the worst case scenario," Board of Supervisors Chairman Efren Carrillo said in an interview Monday. Supervisors are set to hear a report Tuesday on the reductions, which are contained in a proposed budget to be released Friday.

Supervisors will determine the precise number of layoffs and job cuts in budget hearings set to begin June 13.

"There is no question that we're still going to see a significant impact from these job losses," Carrillo said.

Public safety staffing, including frontline jobs in the Sheriff's and District Attorney's offices and the probation department, are proposed for a larger share of the cuts this year than in the past two years of county budget woes. Together, the three departments account for nearly half of the proposed job cuts and more than 40 percent of the layoffs.

Officials said that was because the departments and another associated with the justice system — the Public Defender's Office — account for more than half the spending from the county's projected $377 million general fund, the discretionary pot within a larger $1.1 billion overall budget. In years past, the four justice departments had smaller savings targets, but for this coming fiscal year they were asked to meet the same 25 percent savings goal as other county divisions.

Come July, that means the possibility of a smaller corps of deputy sheriffs, correctional officers, criminal investigators and juvenile hall counselors overseeing day-to-day justice duties, county law enforcement officials said.

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