Sonoma County supervisors, in their first public meeting Tuesday on tentative job cuts for the next fiscal year, faced down what they said were two related budget scenarios.
First, several supervisors expressed relief that filling the county's own $43 million gap may require a smaller number of job cuts than originally thought. The latest estimates call for elimination of 223 jobs and 63 layoffs, cutting the county workforce by 6 percent.
Previous proposals put job cuts at 300 to 500, with a much higher number of layoffs.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane called that larger estimate "shocking."
Early retirements, spending cuts and fee hikes at some departments helped avoid steeper workforce cuts, officials said this week.
"Because of your hard work, we were able to soften the blow," Zane told county managers.
But concerns about the state's budget crisis dispatched any certainty about the county's financial picture.
A standoff between Democrats and Republicans over proposed tax extensions tied to about half the state budget means much of the impact to counties — including the final layoff numbers — won't be known until late summer, after the county wraps up hearings on its own projected $377 million general fund budget next month, administrators said.
"It's not over until it's over," said County Administrator Veronica Ferguson. "We're going to give it our best shot in June and then come back in September (on the state budget)."
Already, the county faces between $30 million to $60 million in cuts, mostly to health and human service programs, plus a permanent state takeaway of $15 million in early childhood education funds as part of budget legislation approved in March.
The fate and fiscal impact of other proposals, including a shift of low-level offenders to county jails, remains unknown. Most of those so-called realignment deals depend on extensions of taxes on vehicles, income and retail sales — the issue that's now tied up in Sacramento.
Supervisor Valerie Brown, a former state assemblywoman, said the board should be wary of the state's shifting proposals in county budget hearings starting June 13.
"This is the worst budget I've ever seen," said Brown, the lone two-term supervisor. "We need to be as conservative as possible and hope we can add instead of take away more."
A representative of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the county's largest union, told supervisors that rank and file workers have been impacted far more than management by the county's cutbacks.
She cited an SEIU analysis of county workforce data showing the number of line workers has shrunk by more than 12 percent in the last four years, while management has shrunk by only 4 percent.
"It makes us wonder, if we're cutting line staff, why we have these additional layers of management," said Marcia Barton, an SEIU field representative.
Zane, who was backed heavily by labor unions in her 2008 election campaign, defended the county's managers, saying many were doubling up with frontline duties.
"Which I think is important in these times," she added.
The county's proposed budget is due out before June 1.