A decade after agreeing to pick up employees' share of pension contributions to CalPERS, Yolo County is working to reverse that decision.
The new mantra: Ask employee groups to pick up their own share of payments to the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
Yolo County along with many other local governments in California began, more than a decade ago, the practice of paying employees' share of pension contributions to CalPERS.
The theory was that by taking on those contributions, which are a percentage of employees' salaries, cities and counties could help hold the line on future salary inflation.
That backfired after 2008-09, when CalPERS suffered a 24 percent investment loss and began boosting required pension contributions.
Now many local governments are taking the same tack asking employee groups to once again pick up their own pension costs.
It's been five years since the recession hit. And local governments that have already cut deeply into budgets are finding options are limited for the upcoming fiscal year.
Yolo County has slashed employee ranks by a third, reducing the number of workers to 1,200 from the 1,800 in pre-recession times.
On the revenue side, the real estate market and the property tax proceeds that lag by close to a year have been slow to recover.
In Yolo County, property tax revenue is expected to remain flat, County Administrator Patrick Blacklock said. But lately, he added, there have been signs that it could actually decline. Meanwhile, expenses are continuing to increase. For the fiscal year that starts July 1, Yolo County department heads figure they'll need more than $11 million more to operate than expected revenue will allow, according to a staff report.
It's time, Blacklock said, to take a new approach, one that favors long-term savings over short-term cuts.
The change in who pays employees' pension contributions is part of the plan. For every labor group that agrees, the county proposes to forgo up to 80 hours of worker furloughs planned in the next fiscal year.
Department heads have outlined spending needs in 19 service areas that would run, without cuts, well ahead of revenue.
Among the largest: the District Attorney's Office (with a $2.2 million shortfall); indigent health care ($3 million); adult and juvenile detention medical services ($1.7 million); and, the Sheriff's Department ($3.2 million).
To help balance the budget, up to a dozen workers could face layoffs, Blacklock said.
"Our budget balancing strategy had limited the number of layoffs to just a handful," he said, "and we're hopeful we'll be able to get that down further with a voluntary separation incentive program and labor negotiations."
To date, Yolo County has reached multi-year agreements with two workers' groups the Probation Association and the Management Association in which employees have resumed making their own CalPERS contributions.
Still to come are negotiations or agreements for six bargaining units whose contracts expire at the end of June or October.
These represent a range of workers from sheriff's deputies to the county's largest labor group, the 614-member General Unit.
The county plans to eliminate 100 positions from the budget that were kept vacant over the last year.
If these measure are insufficient, Blacklock said, more layoffs could be required at the start of calendar year 2013.