The Calaveras County budget “overall is balanced,” Chief Administrative Officer Al Alt told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday on the opening day of budget hearings.
Expenditures are up from last year, but so are revenues, thanks to a $20-million Butte Fire settlement.
Given four weeks to prepare the third budget in the past 10 months put forward by three different CAOs, Alt said he took a “conservative approach.”
That is, he forecasted restricted revenues and high expenditures to “build a layer of confidence that a shortfall is unlikely” come final adoption in September.
He said the biggest influences on the recommendation were unfunded Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) liability, financial strains of last year’s $9.8 million deficit, midyear expenses for salary increases and filling vacant positions and a projected national economic downturn in 2021.
The General Fund is the part of the budget over which local officials have the most discretion, funding the bulk of law enforcement, administration and offices such as the Assessor and the Tax Collector. The General Fund expenditures for the fiscal year that begins July 1 are projected to be about $77 million, while revenues are projected to be $72.7 million.
The county will rely on cash carry (unspent funds from the prior year) and a “substantial Teeter transfer” to balance the budget this year, Alt said. He left about $5 million in General Fund reserves.
“While the county has enjoyed the benefit of unexpected revenue increases to support the budget in the last few years, year-over-year reliance on unexpected revenues or one-time monies, generally in the form of cash carry, is not sustainable or desirable,” Alt warned in the introduction. Recommendations were based on “fulfilling mandates, preserving or enhancing public safety and/or generating revenue.”
Echoing former CAO Timothy Lutz’s warnings in budget discussions last year, Alt said services will be “detrimentally impacted if we make any reductions,” and that harder discussions over freezing positions may arise, depending on department needs.
He said tax revenues have steadily increased in recent years, but that overall revenue projections are difficult to analyze due to the variability in state and federal funding from year to year for disaster relief.
The solution for that is looking at long-term revenue enhancements through the lens of a comprehensive economic development plan, he said.
Supervisors heard from the Sheriff’s Office, Librarian and District Attorney’s Office Tuesday.
Key elements of the sheriff’s presentation included General Fund requests of about $640,000 for four new patrol cars and an inmate work van, academy deputy salaries, a captain position, a repeater site battery and a $17,000 drone, among other items. Sheriff Rick DiBasilio stressed that the office continues to undergo a severe staffing shortage, and highlighted the need to replace its fleet of aging vehicles, some of which have more than 200,000 miles logged on them.
Starting salary is not competitive enough, and the office is anticipating five vacancies by the end of the year, DiBasilio said.
Librarian Nancy Giddens asked for about $14,000 to fund a permanent position for a traveling STEAM educator for children, and District Attorney Barbara Yook requested that the board not make the proposed cuts to her department. Under initial recommendations, funds set aside for anticipated litigation expenses – expert testimony, witness fees and consultations – took a major hit, in addition to funds for staff training and supplies.
“It’s incredibly wasteful to have to come to the board to request funds for an expert for any particular case, in which case it would become very public,” she said.