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County revenues, expenses up
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The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved a $954 million preliminary budget Tuesday which forecasts another year of challenges, but suggests the recession is nearing an end.

The 2012-2013 county budget is up 7 percent from last year, primarily due to two large public works projects – a new Kiernan Avenue Highway 99 interchange and the widening of Claribel Road which tally $48.5 million alone.

Even without those two projects, though, the budget is up 1.6 percent. That marks the first year of budget growth since the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

Discretionary revenue is projected at $147 million, up $7 million from a year ago but still $34 million less than the 2007-2008 high. And sales and use taxes are recovering – projected up 12.5 percent – though the property taxes which make up the majority of county discretionary revenue remain down.

“Even though it appears that we bottomed out as an organization, we’re far from being out of the woods,” said Stan Risen, assistant chief executive officer for the county.

The general budget requires the use of about $14.6 million in reserves, while the entire budget uses about $36 million in one-time funds. Risen said the county remains dedicated to bringing expenses in line with revenues.

The county is relying on ongoing labor negotiations to shrink the budget shortfall, accounting for about $9.2 million in savings. Should the needed concessions not be made, as many as 142 employees could be laid off.

The requested concessions include a 6 percent salary reduction and six furlough days for each employee, effective July 1. Eight of 12 county labor unions have already agreed to the concessions.


Budget slim, focused

County staff repeatedly described the budget as dedicated to maintaining core and mandated services. Most departments will see flat year-over-year funding allocations.

But some services will return, chief among them the reinstatement of the Stanislaus County Sheriff Drug and Gang Task Force, and the rehiring of an undersheriff and a new sergeant in charge of patrol. Those positions were able to be funded through cost savings from previous years.

“Today I heard a smattering of good news, which is the first in four years,” Supervisor Vito Chiesa said.

Some cutbacks will come, too, with two reductions-in-force leading the way. An account clerk in the auditor-controller’s office and a confidential assistant in the county counsel’s office will be dismissed. Additionally, the county planning department will see its hours of operation change to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., though appointments will be available outside of normal hours.

Numerous other potential problem areas exist, from $4.1 million in deferred county maintenance to growing demand for In-Home Supportive Services and Medically Indigent Adult care, particularly psychological hospitalizations. Additionally, the county remains unsure as to the true costs of the state’s realignment plan which will send less-serious prisoners to county jails and the parole system.

Those uncertain costs, plus a potential millions more in state funding cuts as California grapples with a $16 billion budget shortfall, paint a worrying picture despite recovering revenues, according to Supervisor Jim DeMartini.

“The problems the county faces are significant,” DeMartini said. “The state faces a huge, mass budget def. And what they usually do when they get themselves in trouble is rip off the cities and the counties.

 “… We've obviously got a long way to go before I can feel really comfortable about next year.”

But with hard work, and the assistance of the county labor unions, Supervisor Dick Monteith said the county can succeed.

“This board will do what we have to do,” Monteith said to county staff. “With all your help, and the citizens’ help, we will get through this, but we will do what we have to do.”

The preliminary budget is intended as an interim spending plan, with a final budget expected in September.