Tulare County Bracing for Job Cuts

December 18, 2008 11:52:34 PM PST
One Valley county is predicting the loss of one hundred county jobs if one provision of the state budget becomes reality.Farmers pay lower property taxes under the Williamson Act, which is meant to protect the state's Ag lands from development. Though valley counties lose out on millions in tax revenue, they do get a small portion back from the state. Now, that money may be cut to fix the state budget and leaders here in Fresno and Tulare counties say the Central Valley has the most to lose.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Department is bracing for job losses, if the $3.4 million dollars the county gets to support the Williamson Act is cut. "We will have to have to eliminate positions. We have no where else to cut but positions," said Tulare County Sheriff Bill Whittman.

Tulare County says there are tens of thousands of acres of farmlands under Williamson Act contracts, costing the county up to $15 million dollars a year in lost property taxes. They count on a $3.4 million dollar subsidy in their budget's general fund to support county programs and say the loss of that funding could mean a loss of up to one hundred jobs. "This means real money, real jobs, the potential of jobs and real people and that's why we're so concerned," said Tulare County Supervisor Phil Cox.

Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson says Tulare and Fresno counties would be hit the hardest by the loss of the Williamson Act funds, and the effects would be devastating. He says it could mean programs that have already seen reductions this year could be cut entirely. "We're cutting back on rural clinics, we're cutting back on healthcare, we're cutting back on mental health, behavioral health, that all comes back on the general fund, said Larson.

Larson says Fresno County is counting on $4.7 dollars in subsidies in this year's budget, and after other budget cuts, there is little left to lose. "They've cut us to the bone, don't break the bone. Leave the Williamson Act alone," said Larson.

County leaders in Tulare and Fresno counties say they were on the phone with Sacramento lawmakers all day Thursday trying to protect Williamson Act funds. They did get a bit of relief when they heard the governor wouldn't sign the latest plan, but they still fear the worst.

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