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County budget looks ‘grim’ for 2010-2011

POSTED March 3, 2010 12:35 a.m.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors received news Tuesday that their current budget was roughly on par with their modest expectations at the halfway point, but that the 2010-2011 budget could be the most challenging in the county’s history.
County District 1 Supervisor Bill O’Brien characterized the situation as, “extremely grim.”
“It’s our best guess how we’re going to get through this,” O’Brien said. “Each department head has done a great job already but it’s going to get tougher, we know that.”
In the current fiscal year, the county has already seen discretionary revenue fall $11.3 million short of expectations. Tax revenue has declined across the board, falling by $5.5 million in the Public Safety Sales Tax, $2.6 million in property taxes and $3.1 million in sales and use tax.
The county will fund the imbalance through redesignating $7.9 million in State Proposition 1A funds and with $3.4 million in carryover funds from the 2008-2009 budget.
The mid-year budget revision adopted by the board also makes use of $1 million of the $4 million Appropriations for Contingencies budget, primarily to finance the Statewide Election, which cost the county $906,000.
Other changes include the deletion of two vacant positions and unfunding three more vacancies, in the Chief Executive Office, Child Support Services, and Strategic Business Technology departments. Ten employees were added the Community Services Agency, however, paid for by newly available Medi-Cal funds.
Next year’s budget looks to be even tighter, as additional revenue declines are projected. Even with $10 million in one-time funds for next year, the county expects to fall $23.5 million short of a balanced budget.
“The reality is we are facing challenges in this fiscal year and the next fiscal year that we have not seen in our lifetimes,” said Stanislaus County CEO Rick Robinson.
Any additional cuts will come on the heels of a 12 percent cut endured by most departments last year — 5 percent for public safety departments — despite the use of $15.3 million in one time funds at the time.
An 8 percent reduction in funding next year would project into 118 fewer employees, on top of 121 projected retirements. If the county should be able to negotiate an across the board 5 percent salary reduction — a strategy currently being investigated — 72 positions could be saved.
Another change proposed for next year’s budget, allowing departments to carryover 75 percent of county costs savings, could save an additional 11 positions.
Board projections show declining service levels and furloughs across the county in 2010-2011—– even before considering state budget cuts — as funding has dried up. The county expects a $4.6 million shortfall in state mandated matching funds — $2.6 million of which would go toward In-Home Supportive Services — and an inability to even fund an election under current legal mandates.
Forecasts call for a reduction in Sheriff’s Patrol Operations, the number of courtrooms staffed with prosecutors, services provided by the Animal Services Department, and the number of beds available for adult and juvenile detainees. Fewer road construction projects, reduced maintenance service levels at park and county facilities, and fewer operating hours at selected library branches are also on the horizon.
“We can expect services will be less accessible and less available to the public,” Robinson said. “We can expect reduced hours of operation, and turnaround times will slow.”
The proposed 2010-2011 budget, which will chronicle just how deep the cuts will be, is expected in late May.
For more information on the mid-year budget report, visit www.stancounty.com
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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