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Layoffs loom for employees as Monterey County tightens its budget belt.

Monterey County Animal Services employees have been as nervous as the cats they care for since the county’s 2018-19 draft budget was released May 18. The agency could lose eight employees, depending on what happens at budget hearings held by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors on June 4 and 5. Over the last decade, Animal Services staff has been whittled away, from 24 full-time equivalent positions to 15.5 currently – which might be cut in half.

“They’re struggling right now and they’ll be absolutely decimated,” says David Alexander, vice chair of the Animal Control Program Advisory Board, a nine-member panel of appointees representing local cities, veterinarians, animal groups and citizens. He believes if the Board of Supervisors doesn’t find a way to save positions, euthanasia in the Salinas shelter will increase: “It’s a horrible situation to contemplate.”

Former animal control officer Cathy Stanley says she retired in January because the shrinking department led to overworked employees who suffered from physical and mental ailments as a result. “Before it was cut to the bone, and now it’s being cut below the bone,” she says. Employees are worried for themselves, she adds, but also that animals will suffer as a result of reduced services.

Alexander will join a chorus of people in multiple departments vying for the supervisors’ attention during the hearings when they decide the fate of more than 83 positions, representing as many as 86 employees in full-time and part-time positions, due to an estimated $36.2 million budget shortfall for 2018-19.

Hardest hit is the Health Department – which Animal Services falls within – poised to lose nearly 43 positions, mostly due to the loss of $6 million tied to how state funding for health care is redistributed.

The Department of Social Services faces a loss of 15 positions, including nine social workers and a supervisor primarily assigned to investigating child and elder abuse referrals. Other departments facing significant layoffs include Economic Development, IT, the County Administrative Office and the Auditor-Controller’s Office. The draft budget calls for eliminating another 101 positions that are currently vacant, leaving many departments short-staffed.

Since the Budget and Analysis Division announced the projected deficit, officials have been working to save positions, mostly in the Sheriff’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and other areas of law enforcement, says County Budget Director Paul Lewis.

Despite some monies expected from new cannabis tax revenues, it won’t be enough to meet the rising cost of salary and pension obligations. Departments are essentially getting what they got last year. “The problem is their costs went up,” Lewis says.

It’s possible that the Board of Supervisors will make readjustments to save jobs, Lewis adds, before approving the final budget by June 30: “There is still hope.”

Alexander believes the Environmental Health Division under the Health Department "couldn't care less about Animal Services." The advisory board wants to see a current plan to operate a joint powers authority with the city of Salinas enacted, but only if it becomes it's own separate entity from the county and city, similar to one done between Santa Cruz County, the city of Santa Cruz, and other local cities.

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