County faces loss of 29 jobs | TahoeDailyTribune.com

County faces loss of 29 jobs

Gregory Crofton, Tribune staff writer

Facing a budget crisis, El Dorado County is proposing to consolidate entire departments and cut jobs to address an estimated $8 million to 12 million deficit forecast for the next fiscal year.

“We are in the perfect storm,” said El Dorado County’s Chief Administrative Officer Laura Gill, of funding cuts from the state and money due to retirement funds. “We knew they were coming. If we can cure fiscal year 04-05 we’ll probably be in fairly good shape for the rest of (five-year) projection period.”

Money due to the state’s public employee retiree fund, called CalPERS, and Gov. Schwartzenegger’s decision to eliminate the vehicle license fee hike, are root causes of the predicted deficit, Gill said.

In an effort to guide the county safely back to shore, Gill has proposed a massive reorganization of services. It would combine 14 departments into 6 and cut at least 29 jobs, creating a potential savings of about $2 million.

The county will try to cover the rest of the deficit by tapping funds set aside for emergencies, maximizing tax revenue and looking for ways to save money within departments, Gill said.

“We’ll be sitting down with departments and looking at what we have. “Restructuring each department to make sure we’re providing good services,” said Gill, who said her plan would revert the county structure similar to how it was in 1992 and eliminate redundancy.

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Gill presented the plan this week at the County Board of Supervisors’ meeting. Portions of it could be approved when the board meets this Tuesday in Placerville.

Dave Solaro, the supervisor who represents the Tahoe portion of the county, said the amount of the deficit depends on what the state Legislature does, such as approving $7.2 million to compensate for the lost vehicle license money.

“I support overall the concept, but I still want to look at it some more,” said Solaro, regarding Gill’s proposed reorganization. “We’ll discuss it more next week.”

Gill thinks chances are slim that the state will hand over money to the county.

“I think it will be a real hard sell,” she said. “The senate majority leader has indicated that the county should sue the state to get the money.”

There’s already been fallout since Gill released the plan on Monday: Kathleen Burne, director of the Department of Mental Health, announced her resignation effective Dec. 29.

Burne, 57, director of mental health for 12 years, said she made her decision in part because Gill’s plan would merge the public health and mental health departments, an action she thinks would be a mistake.

But also because the department will be hit hard if the state doesn’t come through with money to compensate for vehicle license funds.

“We’ve cut out almost everything we could that wasn’t salaries,” Burne said. “We’d have to eliminate programs.”

Burne, who has worked for the county for 16 years, said if the reorganization does happen, she thinks it would be more appropriate for someone new to take on the job.

The interim planning director, Craven Alcott, is also ready to retire. She plans to leave at the end of April. But Alcott said her decision is not related to county issues.

Gill’s reorganization would merge the planning and building departments. The merger would also include the development-related units of the environmental management and transportation departments.

“This is a retirement plan I’ve had for some time, unfortunately it comes at a time of turmoil,” Alcott, 51, said. “I told the CAO and board members if they need me to stay a little longer I’ll be willing to help out. I think overall the CAO’s reorganization makes a lot of sense.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com