For the past two years, Sonoma County supervisors have relied on employee concessions, reserve funds and job attrition to cover county budget deficits.
But now county leaders say job cuts, which were utilized to a lesser degree in the past, appear to be the main way out of a projected $42.3 million deficit for the budget year that starts in July.
"In the last three years, we've gone from bad to worse to devastating," Board of Supervisors Chairman Efren Carrillo said about the anticipated impact of further downsizing on the county workforce.
The Board of Supervisors began its public deliberations Tuesday on the county's current and future budget woes.
At the center of the nearly two-hour discussion was a preliminary proposal to cut county spending at all departments by 25 percent and reduce the 3,700-member workforce by as many as 500 positions.
Hundreds of layoffs could result from any final decision, which would come in June when supervisors approve a 2011-2012 spending plan.
"It's going to be a very difficult and trying time," County Administrator Veronica Ferguson said at the start of her presentation to the board.
The job cuts are an attempt to address head-on a three-year shortfall caused mainly by a historic drop in property tax revenue, rising government costs including those linked to retirement benefits and reductions in state and federal funding.
The new strategy would rely more on job cuts and less on the employee concessions and one-time special reserve funds used the past two years to solve deficits of nearly $62 million and $22 million, respectively.
Those budgets avoided large-scale layoffs by cutting mostly vacant positions, but that may have delayed the inevitable, several supervisors said Tuesday.