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Calaveras Assessor Balks at Furlough Days

Calaveras County Assessor Randy Metzger said he´s not joining other elected officials who have written checks to the county representing their participation in a cost-saving furlough program.

The reason:

“The furloughs are a shame as far as I´m concerned,” Metzger said. “They started out saying it was going to save $300,000. Now they´re saying it´s closer to $150,000.”

He said the furloughs are actually costing the general fund $25,000 to $30,000.

“Each day we don´t process property tax assessments, it´s going to affect when we close the roll at the end of the year,” Metzger said. “I´m the one who brings in over 50 percent of the general fund money. And at the end of the year there´s (going to be) less money in the general fund because I can´t process all the business.”

Elected officials are exempt from the furloughs but were asked to voluntary contribute one day´s pay for each of the five furlough days the Board of Supervisors approved in June to balance a budget.

The elected officials´ first installment, for a Sept. 3 furlough, was due in early October but it was $289 short for Metzger´s share.

“I was stunned that Randy would not want to be part of the team to help pay down the deficit that we were running,” Supervisor Paul Stein said.

One of the reasons the county did the furloughs was to forego having to lay people off, Stein said.

“The most important asset we have in county government is the people who do the services,” Stein said. “If you lay people off, … you´re just putting them out on the street.

“The other thing annoying is Randy had stood up in front of the board and asked for more employees and at no time did he express he was against the furlough,” Stein said. “This is out of the blue.”

“I think we´re all in this together,” Supervisor Lucy Thein said. “We all have to cooperate. Everybody else is doing it. Why should he be exempt? The only other choice we have is to lay people off.”

Metzger said he´s unhappy with the board´s decision to hire the Ferguson Group, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm. The decision caused a lot of ill-will among employees, he said.

“They turn around and spend $120,000 on the Ferguson Group,” Metzger said. “They say it´s a different pot of money. They can do whatever they want with the pots of money. They hired the Ferguson Group on the backs of the employees.

“My employees are already stressed. We have to do the same amount of work with five less working days.”

The Ferguson Group won´t bring in any money until 2006, Metzger said. By then, money called for in Proposition 1A, Nov. 2, will be returned to the county from the state.

“So why don´t we take care of the employees we have here and worry about this long-term Ferguson Group thing when we can afford it?” he asked.

Supervisors are sticking by their decision.

“The Ferguson Group was my idea and I take responsibility for that,” Stein said. “Again Randy is looking at things very shortsighted. He´s not seeing the bigger picture. We have tremendous needs in Calaveras. The list is endless. If you don´t have a lobbyist working for you, you´re not going to bring any dollars back home to your community.”

Stein pointed out that Plumas County hired Ferguson, which brought in more than $1 million.

“To me its worth it,” Stein said.

And if the money doesn´t come in until 2006, “It´s irrelevant,” Stein said. They´re going to bring the money in. If they don´t, they´re going to be fired.”

“Maybe we´ll have a few dim years, then all of a sudden it will hit gold and would be like Bonanza,” Thein said. “If we get Proposition 1A and Ferguson Group, it will have been worth waiting.”

To Metzger, the problem is now.

“I need more staff and I need more room. It´s a competition. You go in and beg to get what you need and they don´t pay attention to what you produce. I´m pretty much tired of it,” he said.

“I´m not going to do any more fighting. I´m going to lay out what I need and if they give it to me, they can. I´m not going to go in begging anymore. … If they don´t give me what I need, I´m going to have to cut services and the amount of money that goes into the general fund is going to decrease.”

After the first furlough day, supervisors held a study session to analyze its impact on the county´s 500 employees.

“I think they were respondent to a certain extent,” Metzger said.

In that meeting the board decided to ask the employee union if getting off one hour early every Friday was a better solution. The union didn´t approve.

Metzger said he likes supervisor-elect Bill Claudino´s idea, which is to have employees go ahead and work on the furlough, but not get paid. They would get credit for it and when things are better than they can get paid for it, Metzger said.

“It´s an interesting idea,” Thein said. “I think it´s going to be a while before the county looks better. The whole state has fiscal problems. I think that´s a pie in the sky attitude.”

“To (the board´s) credit, they´re going to look at it again in January,” Metzger said.

The board is set to have a financial planning session with Metzger, Auditor Linda Churches, and Treasurer/Tax Collector Lynn Norfolk.

“I´m hoping that at the January meeting, they´ll listen to Bill Claudino´s ideas and that they´ll listen to (Churches and Norfolk) as we present n if you give us more support, we´ll get you more money,” Metzger said.

“I´ve been accused of not being a team player,” he said. “I am a member of the team because I´m stirring things up and paying attention to what´s going on. Just because you don´t agree with what´s going on on the team doesn´t mean you´re not a team player.

“I´m not saying I´m not going to contribute,” he said. “I´m not going to contribute until the end. I´m waiting for the whole thing to settle down, then I´ll make my decision. The money had nothing to do with it. The issue is not the money I´d be saving by not contributing.”

“You´ve got to stand up for what you feel is right and not worry about caving in to what everybody else is doing,” Metzger said. “I´ve got to do what I feel is right.”

Read More at the Calaveras Enterprise.