Santa Clara County supervisors face staggering budget shortfall
Santa Clara Board of Supervisors members Cindy Chavez (top left), Mike Wasserman (top right), Joseph Simitian (bottom left), and Susan Ellenberg (bottom right) on a Zoom budget meeting. Photo by Madelyn Reese.

Santa Clara County supervisors started the daunting task of addessing an anticipated budget deficit of between $200 million and $600 million, with jobs as the first place to cut.

Before kicking off discussion Aug. 17 of the specifics of how to address the shortfall, supervisors reviewed their challenges, including uncertainty in federal and state funding and the unclear severity and duration of the pandemic. They were stymied by the knowledge that this massive deficit cannot be solved with one-time funding solutions.

The current budget up for debate is planned to resolve about $144 million of the county’s shortfall, primarily through the elimination of staff. Jeffrey Smith, county executive officer, said the proposed job cuts are primarily funded, vacant positions.

“We asked certain departments to match, or come up with reduction targets …This is just a start, we expect more later,” Smith said. “But we think we gave you a proposal here that is relatively easy because the positions, the majority of the positions are vacant…”

Department heads have come up with plans to move employees around to prevent layoffs. “So with this budget, no one will go out the door,” Smith said.

Despite the proposed budget cuts and deletions, the county acknowledges there still will be a large deficit that will need continual cost reductions throughout the next fiscal year. Supervisors plan to revisit the budget in November and February.

Proposed position deletions include:

Office of the County Executive: One public communication specialist, one protocol officer and two multimedia communication officers.

Office of Sustainability: One program manager II.

Division of Equity and Social Justice (DESJ): Two management analyst, one community outreach specialist, one training and staff development specialist, one graphic designer II and one research and evaluation specialist II.

Also planned is the elimination of one senior loss prevention specialist in the Liability and Property Insurance Division of the Risk Management Department.

There weren’t only cuts in the proposed budget. Suggested places to allocate county funds included:

Registrar of Voters: Ongoing funding of $952,800 to fund additional extra help hours.

County Library District: One-time funding of $4,522,136 for the purchase of fixed assets.

Budget Director Greg Iturria said the county is attempting to balance the rest of the budget. The county expects to lose an expected $24 million on delinquent tax payments and penalties because Gov. Gavin Newsom in May signed an executive order mandating property tax relief.

“On everyone’s mind right now is that we don’t have the additional federal stimulus money … many of us hoped for,” Iturria said. “The state budget was adopted with automatic trigger cuts. If the federal government doesn’t provide at least $14 billion in new flexible aid … we need to be prepared for another round of cuts… We want to have some set aside to help us prepare for that.”

Federal funding has been inadequate in volume, in amount and in flexibility, Iturria said. The federal government’s aid has too many restrictions on top of inadequate amount of funds, he said, so the county will need to look for additional funding.

Supervisors were concerned about the elimination of positions and how those deleted positions might be added back if needed.

Iturria assured that through an “add/delete” process, county offices will have flexibility in hiring and filling holes. Just because a position is deleted doesn’t mean a department can’t come back to the county in the event that a retirement or resignation occurs and be able to institute a needed position somewhere else.

Discussions will continue via Zoom all week. The budget is set for final approval at the supervisor’s meeting Aug. 21. View meetings and agendas here.

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MadelynGReese

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.