County administrators say the government is paying 614 fewer employees than it paid in July because of the incorporation of Mission Viejo and staffing cutbacks intended to balance a tight budget.
But the reduction, intended to save the county money, has also caused a slowdown in the delivery of government services.
"People are waiting in lines a little longer," Associate County Administrative Officer John Sibley admitted Wednesday. "Some of the sheriff's response times are a little longer. The demands for service are far exceeding our ability to meet them."
3% Reduction Was Asked
The reduction is partly in response to the supervisors' directive last year that called on county administrators to shrink the size of the government by 3% through reorganization and attrition.
In a letter to the supervisors last week, County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish said the 614 positions represent a reduction of almost 4%. In July, Parrish said the county had 15,794 employees.
"I would consider this progressive," said Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez, who last year proposed the 3% staffing reduction. "I don't consider it a total solution. It's a step in the right direction."
Supervisors Chairman Thomas F. Riley added, "I think that we have acted in a very businesslike way. I've been pleased at the (frugal) attitude that has gone on here."
Sibley said the government has not calculated a dollar saving represented by that staff reduction because some of the positions are paid for with various grants or fee programs and some with the county's general fund.
Sibley said, however, that the cutbacks implemented by the government this fiscal year--including a hiring freeze and a reduction in travel--have saved about $5 million so far, part of which includes the salaries for the empty positions.
For the last several years, the county's revenues have fallen short of the money it needs to maintain standard service levels. Until last month--more than halfway through the fiscal year--the county faced a $23-million shortfall that nearly forced the layoff of hundreds of employees.
One week before drastic cutbacks were announced, the county balanced the budget, in part with a new state grant program.
$9.2 Million From New City
The reduction of 614 employees includes 215 positions that remain part of the county government but are being paid for with about $9.2 million from the new city of Mission Viejo.
The city has a contract with the county to provide various services, such as police and fire assistance.
Another 399 positions in the government are vacant as a result of attrition and a hiring freeze, Parrish's letter said. That represents about 2.5% of the government's total staff.