By ABBY SOUZA
At least for the near future, most vacant positions in Tuolumne County government will stay that way.
County supervisors have unanimously backed County Administrator Brent Wallace's recommendation to put a freeze on county hiring.
Wallace's request was to re-institute hiring controls that had been adopted as part of the 2002-03 budget and had continued through December 2002.
The freeze is needed because of the impact the state budget crisis may have on county revenue, he said.
"There is virtually no progress on the state budget," Wallace said. "The real issue before us is our own county general fund."
By leaving vacant positions unfilled between now and the 2003-04 budget adoption hearings, which are expected to happen in August, Wallace hopes to keep as much money as possible in the general fund.
Hiring limits have saved the county money in the past. In late November 2001, the board supported a hiring freeze proposed by Wallace and Assistant Auditor-Controller Deborah Russell. This freeze saved the county $600,000.
How much money will be saved by the latest hiring freeze will depend on how many jobs become vacant from now until the budget hearings.
District 3 Supervisor Jim Peterson asked during Tuesday's board meeting how the hiring freeze might effect the morale and overtime pay of county employees.
The impact on both, Wallace said, is "profound."
When positions remain unfilled, existing employees must do their own work plus that of the missing worker. This often means working overtime for many county employees.
"Overtime is a double-edged sword," Russell said.
Employees can earn extra money, she said, but they also suffer burnout by working a lot of extra hours to compensate for the unfilled posts.
Some county employees, like department heads, don't receive overtime pay, Russell said.