Santa Clara County supervisors are set to approve more layoffs across county government to prepare their 2021-22 budget for shortfalls due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Supervisors on Nov. 18 discussed eliminating about 170 county jobs. They will cast a final vote Nov. 20 on the layoffs, which are part of a broader plan to shore up next year’s budget. A precursory vote to move the item forward found supervisors split 3-2, with Cindy Chavez and Dave Cortese casting the dissenting votes.
If approved,132 currently unfilled positions would be eliminated and 38 people would be laid off. The move is estimated to save about $10 million annually.
In August, supervisors approved a $3.8 billion budget but were blindsided by a shortfall in the hundreds of millions. They decided then to eliminate about $144 million in jobs that were mostly unfilled, and some services.
This week’s budget sessions were called to plan ahead for further budget difficulties.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the county expects ongoing decreased revenues from both the state and federal government, and continued costs as COVID-19 cases surge. Deficits are expected to continue in the range of $200 million to $500 million per year for the foreseeable future.
At first, supervisors chafed against the layoffs, which included positions across Department of Child Support Services, Department of Planning and Development, Consumer and Environmental Protection Agency, Facilities and Fleet and more.
“I think what we have presented to the board is minimal in terms of layoffs, not minimal of course for the people getting laid off,” said County Executive Jeff Smith. “But it’s only going to get worse, it’s not going to get better.”
While the county has a better idea of how much it will cost to deal with COVID-19, it doesn’t know how long to expect those costs to last.
“I want the public to realize this is a reduction exercise to make some progress with balancing next year’s budget and not this year’s budget,” Smith said. Essentially, the county is thinking ahead, no matter how painful it might be, he said.
“I don’t see at this rate how we’re going to address the projected shortfalls (with this proposal),” Supervisor Mike Wasserman said. “It kind of feels like the boy with his fingers in the dike, given the budget projections we have.”
Smith pushed back on Wasserman’s assessment.
“I think we’re taking a more prudent approach,” Smith said. “A more conservative county executive might be recommending cutting hundreds if not thousands of positions at this point. I think that would be like using a meat cleaver when you need a scalpel.”
Supervisors will begin balancing their 2021-22 budget in spring.
Discussions continue via Zoom Nov. 20. A second reading on the cuts and layoffs is set for Dec. 8. View meetings and agendas here.
Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MadelynGReese