Will San Mateo County put freezeon hiring?

Fearing layoffs due to a $25 million budget shortfall, union representatives Tuesday demanded a place at the table as several county supervisors said a hiring freeze could be a solution to put San Mateo County back in the black.

“We’re worried about the future of the public hospital, and we’ve asked to be at the table instead of passively receiving a report in April requesting layoffs,” said Nadia Bledsoe, senior business agent for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The union represents about 1,000 San Mateo County employees, including hospital staff, food workers and building inspectors.

Louise Alioto-Perez, an emergency-room coordinator at San Mateo Medical Center and a member of the Service Employees International Union, said she was worried the county would cut its funding for indigent care.

“If anyone thinks the other hospitals are going to absorb the indigent patients, it’s not going to happen,” she said at the supervisors’ board meeting Tuesday.

While no decisions will be made until January at the earliest, several supervisors on Tuesday voiced support for a hiring freeze. It would not affect positions with levels of staffing mandated by the state, such as many nursing and law enforcement jobs.

“That’s never a popular decision, but that’s the only way we’ll be able to control future costs,” Supervisor Mark Church said.

The county’s costs are quickly outpacing its revenue, mainly due to negotiated labor contracts and dwindling funds from the state, County Manager John Maltbie said. Supervisors must address the issues now, or the deficit will reach $86.2 million in 2013, he said. The county’s overall budget is about $1.7 billion.

Supervisors accepted a report Tuesday detailing ways to eliminate the deficit by 2013. The plan includes reducing the funding of indigent care, eliminating vacant positions in all departments, and cuts in program budgets. The county’s reserves would be used to soften the impact, particularly in the first year, Maltbie said. The plan also suggested new revenue sources, including sales taxes, parking taxes and hotel taxes.

Supervisor Jerry Hill suggested using excess Education Revenue Augmentation Fund monies to avoid laying off employees. Due to high property values and declining school enrollment, San Mateo is one of three counties in the state that gets back some of its property tax money used to fund schools. This year, the county received $52 million in excess ERAF dollars.

tbarak@examiner.com  

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