The deepening slump in the building industry and continuing financial problems in the county's health care system cost 14 county employees their jobs Tuesday night.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors eliminated the jobs of nine people in the building permit division of the Planning Department, and the jobs of five people in the Health Services Agency. The board also cut eight unfilled positions in the two departments. Both were unanimous votes.
"This is indeed a sad situation," Planning Director Ron Freitas told the board. "We are all painfully aware of the steep decline in the building industry."
Building permits are expected to decline 30 percent this year from the previous year, Freitas said, and the trend will continue next year.
The building permit division depends on permit fees for all of its revenue, which means it must cut costs by 30 percent, Freitas said.
The decline in permit activity began in July, after seven years of increases in revenue, Assistant Planning Director Kirk Ford said. That mirrors a decline nationwide of 36 percent, Ford said.
"Obviously, that doesn't allow us to maintain the same level of expenditures and staffing levels," he said. The building permit division has 31 employees, not counting three vacancies.
Eliminating the positions will save $114,000 through the end of this fiscal year on June 30, and $1.15 million next fiscal year, Ford said. The division's revenues are expected to drop from $3.28 million to $2.1 million this year.
Ford warned that the county's goal of an efficient one-stop shop for building permits, inspections and other services will suffer with the cuts.
The Planning Department is working with the Department of Human Resources and the CEO's office to find jobs elsewhere in the county for the workers, Freitas said. The layoffs will take effect May 18.
"This is a difficult thing for the board to do," said Supervisor Bill O'Brien. "The housing industry has been so affected, and now it's affected the department that handles it."
The Health Services Agency is eliminating 10 jobs, five of them vacant, in an effort to reduce a $4.2 million deficit. The layoffs are a recommendation of HSF Consultants, a company hired by the county to find ways to eliminate the red ink.
Steve Russo of HSF said his firm did a staffing study of other community health centers around the state to come up with the recommended reductions.
The county has taken a number of steps to reduce costs in the agency's clinic system, including eliminating the clinic lab and radiology, reducing hours, requiring co-payments from medically indigent adults and making eligibility changes in the MIA program.
The reduction in staff is expected to save $600,000 a year, according to Mary Ann Lee, HSA director. Some of the five employees will be able to fill vacancies elsewhere in the agency, she said.
Samantha Bland, an agency manager whose job is being eliminated, criticized the HSF Consulting report, but said she agreed with the recommendation to eliminate her own job.
Bland said agency staff could have done the staffing study in-house, saving money that could have been used for patient care.
Bland said HSF didn't look at private clinic models when it did its study, and didn't address systemic issues and policies at the agency that could have saved money.
"I think we should accept the (HSF Consulting) recommendations, and continue to work to make this a better organization," said Supervisor Jeff Grover.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.