Labor negotiators have been going on with Sutter County officials for nearly a year over a new contract for probation, general, supervisory and professional employees. They struck a tentative deal in March, and then the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. 

Last week, Sutter County supervisors denied the deal citing financial uncertainty brought about by the ongoing public health situation. The deal would’ve seen those employees receive a 3 percent raise over the next two years.

“We don’t even know where our budget will be at tomorrow, let alone next week,” said Sutter County Supervisor Mike Ziegenmeyer, during a recent Board of Supervisors meeting. “We don’t know how this is going to play out.”

One of his big concerns was with the rise in unemployment in the area and how that will impact tax revenues the county typically relies on to balance its annual budget.  Supervisor Mat Conant also brought up concerns about the potential loss of property tax revenues because of the virus.

The cost of the proposed two-year contract for general, supervisory and professional employees was estimated to be $2.891 million. The probation contract was estimated to cost another approximately $174,000. 

Assistant County Administrative Officer Leanne Link said going into the Fiscal Year 2020/21 budget cycle, projections indicate the county will see a 10 percent loss in sales tax this year, as well as a 10 percent loss next year. When the county loses those annual funds, it has to turn to the general fund to make up for the deficit. Considering the projections and other anticipated losses, she said the county is expecting to take a hit of up to $5 million to its general fund over the next two years.

The county is in the process of establishing its FY 2020/21 budget and there is already a shortfall of about $3.6 million that has to be figured out, and that’s without the proposed pay raises, she said. 

“I just don’t think we can spend money or promise money that we don’t have,” said Supervisor Ron Sullenger.

Supervisor Jim Whiteaker said he’d rather go back to the negotiation table and work together with the employees to figure out a solution rather than passing the pay raise and having to cut some positions during the next budget cycle. 

“The toughest thing to do is letting someone go, that’s what we are trying not to do here. We are trying to keep everyone’s jobs,” Ziegenmeyer said.

Ron Slaven, a representative for the employee union, said membership is disappointed in the board’s decision, with many members struggling financially due to salaries that have had minimal increases over the past decade. 

“We recognize these are tough times for almost everyone in the community and nation,” Slaven said. “Although the membership is disappointed, I believe they will continue to help the Sutter residents reopen the county in the most safe and expedited way. They are professionals and many worked full time through the stay-at-home order to keep Sutter County’s essential services operating.”

Now that the board has denied the tentative agreement, the plan is to go back to the negotiating table. Slaven said the Sutter County Employees Association Board of Directors and negotiation team are meeting this week to discuss their options so that they can respond appropriately to the county by the end of the week.

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