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O.C. cutting probation officers

Department starts the process of eliminating 58 positions. L.A.

February 12, 2009|Tami Abdollah

As the Orange County Probation Department began to lay off dozens of workers this week to deal with a projected $8.2-million budget shortfall, its officials are pointing affected employees toward Los Angeles County, where the probation department is looking for new applicants.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, 100 employees in the department received notices that they might be laid off, although only 58 positions will be eliminated, said Colleene Preciado, the county's chief probation officer.

Some of those notified were senior county employees who can opt to take a demotion in order to keep their jobs, Preciado said. Laid-off employees will work their last day Feb. 27.

Preciado said the cuts have been "frustrating," especially after the department had a major hiring surge several years ago to fill openings.

"Had we not had this economic downturn around us, we'd be right where we want to be . . . we'd have the exact workforce we should have," Preciado said. "But when we got our revenue cut off, we've got too may people, and it's all happened so fast."

Orange County has been aggressive about making cuts. The county was among the first in California to approve employee reductions starting late last year, identifying the probation department for reductions in December. County officials said they were being cautious and "taking the hits" now to avoid more painful decisions later.

Although Los Angeles County is in a hiring mode, officials in Orange County warned that other counties will eventually have to make similar or even more drastic cuts.

"The longer you wait, the more you're going to have to lay off," said Supervisor John Moorlach. "We've been very proactive and dealing with the issues as they are. Or you can put your head in the sand and hope that things get fixed."

The probation department closed its Westminster Youth and Family Resource Center at the end of January and has begun to reduce capacity at Los Pinos Conservation Camp from 156 beds to 64, which means more juvenile crime suspects will be released while they await court hearings, Preciado said.

Preciado said the department will work to better screen juvenile suspects to determine whether they are suited for release and have them work more closely with their probation officers.

The projected budget gap was primarily because of a decrease in state and federal funding and because employee turnover has declined, Preciado said.

To help workers deal with layoffs, the county has scheduled a seminar for Feb. 20 that will explain the process. Human resources officials from the Los Angeles County Probation Department will be there looking to fills openings.

Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., said he was not surprised L.A. County is hiring.

"It's the same reason why they're cutting social workers and L.A. County wasn't," Berardino said. "Orange County has severely mismanaged its money. It has been spending money with both hands during a time when it should have been much more careful."

Orange County officials said L.A. County's probation department is much larger and has a different management plan for its resources.

Regardless, the laid-off Orange County workers will be a boon to L.A. County, which has been looking to fill gaps in its staffing and will benefit from already-trained and experienced probation officers, said Kerri Webb, a spokeswoman for the L.A. County department. She said the department would also allow Orange County the option of hiring back workers should it resolve its budget problems.

But for now, Webb said, "We're willing to pretty much taper down our recruitment efforts and just head on down to Orange County. Do you need a job? We need you."

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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