By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

More county jobs and the Bar-O-Boys Ranch are the latest victims of severe budget cuts.

A preliminary plan to present a balanced Del Norte County budget for 2003-2004 was accepted by the Board of Supervisors yesterday by a 4-1 vote just before the July 1 deadline set by the state.

This is the third financially difficult year for the county, and officials worry they've run out of ways to trim costs.

andquot;I think most of the rocks have been turned, and we've polished them, and our bag of tricks is almost empty,andquot; Jeannine Galatioto, the county's top administrator, told the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors yesterday.

At least 21 jobs funded by the county will be cut from the budget in addition to the 27 jobs cut last budget season. All of those positions are currently vacant. No layoffs are planned.

About 17 new, lower-skills positions will be added. Officials found ways to pay for most of them with federal Welfare-to-Work funds.

County money will also be axed from the Bar-O-Boys Ranch detention center. However, the ranch has another source of income to make up for the funds next fiscal year, Galatioto said.

Galatioto and County Auditor Christie Babich so far have cut $2.2 million from what county department heads requested for 2003-2004. They said they must find ways to trim another $450,000.

andquot;I would like to see more department reorganization, and I would like to see a day-off-without-pay discussion again,andquot; said County Supervisor Martha McClure.

The heavy spending cuts were forced on county departments after Galatioto realized insurance and retirement benefit costs for county employees are expected to rise by $700,000.

andquot;(Retirement) and workers' comp costs are projected to go through the roof,andquot; Galatioto said.

At the same time, large chunks of funding from the state may no longer be available.

Information on which state-funded social services will be cut will probably not be available until the state budget is finalized this fall. The county has pledged not to replace state funding with county dollars.

However, the county may have to cut back more as the worst state-budget crisis in recent memory begins to affect local governments. State lawmakers remain uncertain how to balance a $17 billion deficit.

andquot;We need to brace ourselves. I think our next year is going to be worse,andquot; Galatioto said.

andquot;One of the biggest fears we have is the unknown shift of $250 million in costs to counties,andquot; she said.