10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, April 27, 2010

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County’s land use services department will see major structural changes in response to a dramatic decline in permit applications.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $12.8 million decrease to the agency’s budget as part of the county’s third-quarter financial review.

The department fell $15.8 million short of its projected revenue for the current fiscal year. The $3 million difference will be made up through revenues from other departments, county spokesman David Wert said.

The changes at land use services include merging the advanced and current planning divisions into one unit, eliminating the two deputy director positions that oversee them, and creating a new assistant director of land use services position. The board also made permanent a reduction of about one-third of the department’s work force.

past layoffs

Employees in 62 positions were laid off last September after administrators said the department failed to reduce its budget as its workload plunged. Three top managers were put on leave as a result and the department’s longtime director retired shortly after.

As part of the changes, the code enforcement and building and safety divisions, which are part of land use services, will no longer have deputy directors either, with those positions now bumped down to program managers.

In a separate budgetary action, supervisors agreed to increase retirement pension contributions by $5.6 million to make up for investment losses.

Tim Barrett, chief investment officer with the San Bernardino County Employees’ Retirement Association, which has managed the county’s pension fund since 1945, said the county is contractually obligated to fund the 9.5 percent increase.

1% contribution

Last year, the county contribution rate only increased by 1 percent, he said, but the county should expect more such large increases over the next five years to make up for the plummeting market. The county retirement fund lost $1.5 billion, or a quarter of its value, in the previous fiscal year.

“The magnitude of the 2008 loss was unprecedented in the history of the United States and that includes SBCERA,” Barrett said.

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