HESPERIA - In a sudden move that caught many off guard, the Hesperia Recreation and Park District laid off a group of employees Friday morning.

Faced with the challenge of complying with increases in the minimum wage and other employee benefit costs, the Hesperia Recreation and Park District laid off a "small number of select positions" on Friday, according to a statement from the District.

General Manager Lindsay Woods said it was a difficult decision to lay off employees, but the rising costs of retirement, medical and workman's compensation made it necessary.

"Increasing costs have required us to restructure our operational model to increase efficiency and do more with less," Woods said. "It is always upsetting when we lose employees. It is not something that we take lightly, and is done only out of necessity."

According to the district, fiscal analysis shows the new minimum wage law will increase employee compensation costs by at least $500,000 over five years as it rises from its current level of $10.50 to $15 per hour.

"These layoffs are heartbreaking, and the last thing we want to do," said Board President Mike Limbaugh. "But after fiscal analysis, it is the only responsible way to continue the current level of services and our mission while living within our fiscal means."

The park board has a fiscal responsibility to the community and they have to maintain a "balanced budget going forward," Limbaugh added.

The estimated minimum wage cost increase could conceivably be higher if positions making more than minimum wage are increased. These calculations do not include an expected cost increase in goods and services, the district said.

Park Director Kelly Gregg claimed that "14 full-time maintenance employees" were given layoff notices and that he was "never notified" of the action.

Calling park district employees the "backbone of the district," Gregg told the Daily Press he was "fuming" by an action he called, "an overreach of leadership."

"We didn't have to approve or deny the decision, but after Lindsay explained both, the current and future position of the park district's current and future fiscal status, I felt that the move sounded like the prudent thing to do," Park Director Bob Chandler told the Daily Press. "

The job of a park district director is to make and support decisions that are most beneficial to the the integrity of the park district, said Chandler, who added it was difficult to let employees go, but it to was the right decision to make for taxpayers.

The district is preparing to contract out to cover the duties of those employees who were laid off. It expects to be able to do so at a lower cost.

For more information, call the Hesperia Recreation and Park District at 760-244-5488.

Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLa Cruz@VVDailyPress.com or on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.