-Jim Holmes, Supervisor Dist. 3
An innovative approach to cost cutting is paying dividends for Placer County.
Last year, the Board of Supervisors agreed to set up a Cost Savings Task Force and have it review more than 200 cost-cutting ideas suggested by employees.
It is too early to determine how much the task force will save the county. The board will receive an initial report on its efforts sometime this fall.
I am optimistic the savings will be substantial.
Since last fall, the board has adopted 27 task force recommendations for reducing expenditures and increasing productivity. More will be ready for board review in the coming months.
Over the last few years, Placer County has taken many cost-cutting steps to offset revenue losses caused by the nation’s economic slowdown and state budget crisis. Working closely with the County Executive Office and other departments, the Board of Supervisors put in place a hiring freeze that has helped reduce the county workforce by about 10 percent since the fall of 2007.
The board also approved reductions in department budgets, travel expenses, extra-help employees, overtime pay and contract services.
Placer County’s efforts to save money clearly are paying off. During the 2008-09 fiscal year, the county saved $827,000 through a concerted effort to reduce spending in several areas – including the use of county vehicles, employment of extra-help workers, and communications. Last fiscal year, the savings in those areas exceeded $1 million.
The task force is important partly because it encourages the county to take a closer look at its operations and consider whether there are more cost-effective ways to serve the public.
Another plus is the task force’s cost-cutting recommendations will help Placer County keep its budget balanced this fiscal year, and keep costs under control in future years.
More than 60 employees volunteered to serve on the task force’s Clearinghouse Committee or one of six subcommittees.
The Board of Supervisors considers the task force so important that each of us is a member of at least one subcommittee. I serve on the Purchasing Subcommittee.
The task force was an outgrowth of a series of noon budget briefings County Executive Officer Thomas M. Miller held last year with management and confidential employees. The meetings led to an agreement where employees in the two groups accepted 12 unpaid furlough days and other concessions in return for a no-layoff pledge for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
At the meetings, employees in the two groups were encouraged to submit cost-savings suggestions, and they responded with more than 200 proposals.
The 27 task force recommendations approved by the board cover a range of topics. In some cases, recommendations support or strengthen cost-cutting efforts that were under way already.
Several propose ways to reduce printing and cell phone costs. Other examples include recommendations that call for relying more on video and web-based conferencing as alternatives to face-to-face meetings, increasing the number of county public services offered online and reminding departments to purchase house-brand and generic office supplies when they are cheaper than name-brand products.
Some recommendations deal with issues that are particularly germane to Placer County. One, for example, proposes setting up mini-pools of county vehicles at several locations. That will allow many employees to check out county vehicles where they work, rather than travel to the main vehicle pool in North Auburn. The idea is working well at the Domes, the county’s administrative center in Auburn.
Several recommendations are subject to the meet-and-confer process with labor organizations because they deal with employee benefits.
Another recommendation calls for setting up an electronic suggestion box that will make it easier for employees to propose cost-cutting ideas in the future.
It is already clear the task force is paying big dividends by fostering a culture that encourages everyone to look for ways to save money. That’s particularly critical now because making county operations more cost-effective helps reduce the need to cut funding for vital public services.
The 2010-11 fiscal year will be challenging, because several important revenue sources continue to drop and counties still do not know how much revenue they will lose when the state adopts a final budget.
In Placer County, the Cost Savings Task Force is proving to be an important tool for helping us meet those budget challenges.