The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed what county CEO Rick Robinson termed “a responsible” proposed budget Tuesday morning, slashing $45 million — nearly 5 percent — from last year’s final budget.
“This will be another painful year for Stanislaus County,” Robinson said. “We are continuing to reduce local government spending through multiple strategies. The end result will be a smaller county government with fewer employees and reduced levels of service to the community.”
For a Board of Supervisors that has been mired in layoffs since April, the reduced budget came as no surprise.
“It’s grim news, but not new news,” said District 3 Supervisor and Chairman of the Board Jeff Grover.
An additional six employees were reduced on Tuesday, from the Area Agency on Aging-Veterans’ Services, General Services Agency, Planning and Community Development, Public Works-Administration, and Strategic Business Technology departments. A total of 126 county employees have been handed pink slips during this budget cycle, including 52 workers in the sheriff’s department.
A handful of other cuts came down Tuesday as part of the budget adoption, including the closure of 270 beds at the Honor Farm, an adult detention facility.
Operating hours at the county Treasurer-Tax Collector’s office were reduced by an hour each day, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., instead of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A furlough schedule was also approved for most county departments as part of an effective 5 percent pay cut agreed to by all county unions earlier this year, seeing most departments close on July 2, Sept. 3, Nov. 22-24, Dec. 27-30 and Feb 14. Some departments, primarily those in public safety, the district attorney’s office, and the public defenders office, will not close those days and will instead spread furlough days through the year so as to not impact services.
The cuts agreed to over the past months and reiterated in the adopted proposed budget will result in reduced service levels countywide, ranging from fewer district attorneys in court rooms to reduced operating hours at the library and less parks maintenance.
But even after those cuts, the county is far from a sustainable budget, requiring $37.5 million of reserve funding to break even.
“We’re making tough decisions today but I can tell you the toughest decisions are coming next year or the year after,” said District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa, whose district includes Turlock.
Already, the total number of county employees has fallen from a 2008 high of 4,603 to 3,785.
The cutbacks were nearly unavoidable due to declining tax revenues, primarily in the area of property tax. Revenues are down $20 million from the 2008 high — enough to fund the entire General Fund contribution for the Agricultural Commissioner, Assessor, Auditor-Controller, Board of Supervisors, Clerk of the Board, Clerk-Recorder, Elections, Cooperative Extension, County Counsel, General Services Agency, Grand Jury, Parks and Recreation, Planning and Community Development and the Treasurer-Tax Collector departments.
The picture doesn’t look any brighter next year, Robinson said.
“The only thing I can assure the members of this community is that discretionary revenues will continue to decline,” Robinson said.
Even in this year, some budget gaps remain unaddressed.
The In-Home Supportive Services budget has ballooned by millions over past years, leaving the county unable to fully fund the state mandated program. The county hopes labor negotiations might close that gap, as the current IHSS labor agreement expires Sept. 30.
The Indigent Healthcare Program also faces a $2 million shortfall. Recommendations to address the gap will come before the board this summer.
Tuesday’s vote adopted the preliminary budget, but it won’t be until Sept. 14 that the final budget — one that incorporates the full impact of the state budget — is approved. Depending on the final state budget, Stanislaus County could be saddled with millions more in costs, related to housing state prison inmates, funding mental health services, and administering a welfare to work program.
Despite the challenges, Robinson promised the county would strive to be as efficient and responsive as possible.
“There are no worse wrong answers than not striving for the right answer,” Robinson said.
The 2010-2011 Stanislaus County budget is available online at www.stancounty.com/budget.
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