Citing state budget cutbacks, Tuolumne County's behavioral health services provider has laid off 12 employees.

Kings View Tuolumne County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services laid off 11 of its 130 staff members Wednesday, and an additional employee Thursday, a few days after receiving news of deep cuts to funding for several services, including children's health.

However, the layoffs should not effect the agency's ability to serve its clients, according to Bea Readel, director of the Tuolumne County Behavioral Health Department.

Steve Ellington, Kings View executive director, estimated Kings View's budget was cut by $500,000 to $750,000.

Kings View managers were braced for cuts, he said, but didn't find out about cuts to children's care, for example, until four or five days ago.

"This is a very difficult process," he said. "Decisions were made by the management team as a whole. We also talked to staff about voluntary reductions and hourly reductions to do some cost savings. We're closing a building, probably, to do some cost savings."

Tuolumne County has contracted with Kings View Mental Health System, a private company, since 1996.

Kings View, a national company, provides mental health and substance abuse programs with state and federal money that the county receives.

At a staff meeting Wednesday morning, Kings View employees were notified that several of them would be let go before the day was over, said Dante Sanchez, a licensed clinical social worker and one of 11 laid off that day.

Employees were also told that managers at that point didn't know who would be let go, she said.

"They really didn't have a clear cut plan," said Sanchez, who had worked for Kings View since 1997.

"You left the meeting very anxious, waiting for the ax to drop. It was very poorly handled."

Readel disagreed, telling The Union Democrat that Kings View management knew who would be laid off. The choices, she said, were based not on seniority but on the basis of which positions could be at least temporarily suspended.

Those positions included counselors, support staff, nurses and social workers.

The layoffs are a result of state budget cuts, said Ellington. State officials have spent most of the year grappling with a $24 billion shortfall. Cutbacks initially proposed by Gov. Gray Davis were nixed by legislators, leaving many Californians unsure of what to expect in the final state budget. In the end, cutbacks were deep but not as severe as initially proposed.

"It's not that it's unusual for the state to cut here and there," Ellington said, "but the scope of the cutbacks this year were really dramatic."