Wednesday, January 19, 2011 – 12:45 p.m.

Let the games begin.

In Wednesdays edition of The Sun newspaper San Bernardino County’s Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux started to play his poker hand in an effort to gain control of a ballooning budget deficit nearing $140 million.

The first salvo in turning public perception against the county employee unions.

In order to control the deficit, Devereaux knows it’ll take significant cuts to employee-related costs. Particularly salary and benefits including pension obligations.

Devereaux says county employees “merit” a pay raise, but it’ll cause layoffs and service cutbacks to offset the additional cost.

Devereaux also says in the story that county revenues have leveled off.

A fantasy, unless recently-elected Assessor-Recorder Dennis Draeger has swallowed his red pen.

Draeger knows property values in the county are continuing to deteriorate and he has a duty to reflect this reality in the annual property tax roll in accordance with Proposition 8.

Also retail sales, another revenue stream for the county, remain dismal.

The two largest unions representing general and safety employees respectively must come to the bargaining table starting later this year.

Concessions will be in order.

The San Bernardino Public Employees Association (SBPEA), representing general employees, basically sold its members down the river last summer, while the San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association (SEBA), representing public safety employees, held firm and enforced previously negotiated wage increases.

However both unions stumbled with their respective memberships on the credibility front last year. A potential problem on any future deal-making.

The county has reluctantly instituted a hiring freeze. A move which should have been executed long ago and would have likely made the current situation more tenable.

However, to imply employees may get salary increases is unfortunate.

Why? because it’s likely not to happen and the county workforce will continue to shrink and services reduced.

Why? Expect no more bailouts from state or federal governments or a noticeably improved economy.

The county, thus far, has resisted a mass workforce reduction.

There will likely be another move to once again avoid layoffs.

The big question is at what cost?

County Supervisors will finally have some difficult decisions to make this year.