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Board of Supervisors Enacts Countywide Hiring Freeze

CEO Chandra Wallar will work with department heads to determine which positions to keep vacant to help fill a $90 million budget gap

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to enact a hiring freeze countywide, putting CEO Chandra Wallar in charge of working with department heads to determine which positions can remain vacant to save money.

A budget shortfall of about $90 million in 2011-12 is expected, and part of that sum is a result of changes to the county’s retirement system, which are projected to result in more than $30 million in unplanned costs. Supervisor Dorreen Farr brought the idea of a hiring freeze to the forefront after a meeting in October explored the county’s budget problems.

She said that although the approach has been considered before, the board decided not to follow through in the past.

“We weren’t facing the possible budget deficit that we are now,” Farr said, adding that the county wants to be as proactive as it can for the 2011-2012 year.

Wallar said it’s difficult to determine the exact number of vacant positions.

“It’s an amazingly difficult task,” she said, adding that among vacancies are those that are funded and unfunded, as well as those funded by stimulus monies and the like. She estimated that about 50 funded positions of the county’s 3,800 positions are vacant, though it’s likely there are more. Department heads are working to get Wallar that information by the end of next week, she said.

Supervisor Salud Carbajal said he liked the idea of Wallar working with department heads to hash out which positions should be kept.

“We need to really entrust you to work aggressively with all the departments,” he said. “We have no choice.”

The county’s auditor-controller, Bob Geis, also spoke, but he cast a more dubious eye on the move.

“The hiring freezes generally don’t work,” he said, adding that it’s difficult to phase them out. “I’m looking long term.”

He said that not hiring people now will create a hole when people at the top phase out.

“It’s a tough decision,” he said.

But the county will be sitting down with bargaining units in the spring, Farr said, and wanted to avoid making hires now that may result in layoffs next year.

“I think it behooves us to really be looking at everything,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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