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Placer County layoff notices go out to building department employees

Workers get pink slips Monday, 200 other county posts left vacant
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County is laying off eight building department employees because of declining housing construction and decreased workloads for inspectors. “We understand that this is very difficult for our employees and their families,” County Executive Officer Tom Miller said. “Coming to this decision was also very difficult, and we regret that it was necessary.” The number of new-home building permits were issued has fallen from 974 in 2004-05 to 359 in 2007-08. Building department officials were notified Monday that eight people will be laid off and others will be asked to consider filling a different job with a lower salary. The building department reviewed its organizational structure to match the number of staff providing service with the workload demand, Miller said. Six positions have already been left unfilled after departures since last November. The building department started last fiscal year with 50 employees. No further layoffs are anticipated for the building department during the remainder of the fiscal year, Miller said. The layoffs were the first for the county during the current economic downturn and follow similar steps this past year by the city of Auburn and El Dorado County. “We’ve taken a number of steps over the last 18 months to protect services and avoid the need for staff reductions,” Miller added. More than 200 positions are being kept vacant, with posts left open as staff has retired or left. The county employs about 2,700 workers. Miller said the percentage of jobs left unfilled ranged from 15 percent in the assessor’s office to from 5 percent to 2 percent for criminal justice departments. Public safety remains a high priority, he said. Placer County approved a balanced, interim budget in June, which was based on earlier information from the state contained in the governor’s budget. But legislators have yet to craft a final spending plan and Miller said that number will play a major role in determining the amount of money supervisors will allocate from county funds to pay for state mandated health and human services programs. “Demand for services goes up in a down economy,” Miller said. Supervisors adopted a resolution June 24 giving Miller permission to direct layoffs to protect the budget from going into a deficit position. Miller said one of the county’s priorities is to not dip into its reserve funding at this time. During August workshops, the Board of Supervisors will again review its budget. It will consider how best to balance the county workload to ensure that critical basic services are available, including assistance to families through the health and human services department. “Today’s actions are a reflection of the current state of the economy in California as well as Placer County,” said John Marin, county Community Development Resource Agency director. The agency includes the building department. “We are continuing to track permit applications and the number has continued to decline dramatically. The decision to reduce staff has been extremely difficult for all of us.” The process to achieve a reduction in the workforce will be done in compliance with labor agreements, Personnel Director Nancy Nittler said. Employees who are laid off will be placed on a “reemployment” list. Some employees with seniority may be eligible to “bump” others with less seniority. In addition, the Board of Supervisors has authorized an extra 10 days of pay in the form of leave, extending employment for the laid off workers through Aug. 11, and will continue health, dental and vision care benefits through Sept. 30 at no cost to employees. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.