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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

CAO Seeks to Centralize Hiring of Temp Workers

County: Hufford's proposal to cut costs by streamlining the process of taking on additional staff goes to supervisors next week.

June 17, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moving to further centralize control over county government's finances, chief administrator Harry Hufford is proposing that all hires of temporary help go through his office.

The county's 29 departments and agencies regularly use such extra help as a cost-saving way to fill in temporary gaps in their work force. But the decision to hire temps should be made by the human resources division of Hufford's office with the goal of finding ways to trim the $3-million annual cost of the services, officials said.

The new process would allow Hufford's office to establish a centralized budget of $3 million and authorize his staff to request competitive bids from agencies beginning in October to see how much the county can save.

Currently, each department hires its own temps through purchase order agreements that are renewed annually, officials said.

The proposed changes will allow the administrator's office to pinpoint where it can save money, seek out the best deals through the bidding process and offer better organization, said Barbara Journet, director of human resources.

Consolidating temporary hires is the latest in a series of moves by Hufford to rein in spending and centralize control of the county's $1-billion budget. Hufford called for a hiring freeze shortly after he was brought in by the Board of Supervisors in January to lead it out of a financial crisis sparked by a years-long habit of spending more than the county was taking in and a federal lawsuit over health care billings.

At Hufford's recommendation, the Board of Supervisors agreed to give the chief administrator control over nearly every aspect of government spending and hiring decisions. The former Los Angeles County administrator said he needed more direct oversight of budget matters and the authority to comb operations to find better efficiencies.

Earlier this week, he unveiled budget recommendations that call for more than $12 million in cuts from nearly every county department. Another cost-cutting strategy is to review all contracts and find ways to trim expenses from them, officials said.

"This is all a result of the county reviewing financial areas," Journet said. "When we started the hiring freeze, we needed to see where we could save on costs."

Most of the county's temps are fill-in employees in departments like the Health Care Agency, which runs the public hospital in Ventura, and computer operations, Journet said. The county also typically hires temporary employees for seasonal activities such as tax collection or elections. She added that the plan would be unlikely to affect the number of fill-in workers currently hired by county departments and that her department would not need to add additional staff to meet the new duties.

Hufford did not return phone calls seeking comment on the plan. The Board of Supervisors will consider the proposal Tuesday.

Supervisor John Flynn said he supported the plan as a further weapon in Hufford's cost-cutting arsenal.

"Decentralization is great, but not when you don't have any idea of what's going on in the entire county," he said. "It's a way of controlling costs and it's a good tool for Hufford."

Supervisor Frank Schillo called the proposal "a reasonable business move."

The temp hiring plan is not expected to create much controversy among department heads. But some expressed skepticism that Hufford's office could save much money since the labor market is so tight and temporary agencies are able to demand top dollar.

J. Matthew Carroll, director of the county's Information Systems Department, said he would be surprised if the new process made much of a financial difference.

"It's usually difficult for us to find folks, anyway. You're looking for [information technology] people who command whatever rate they can," he said. "It's a seller's market."

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