‘We feel we’re really on track’:  Supes receive mid-year budget update from CAO Tyler

The Colusa County budget is tracking well and there are no real areas of concern through the end of December, according to Colusa County CAO Wendy Tyler.

Running just a couple of weeks later than usual, Tyler gave the Colusa County Board of Supervisors the midyear budget review at their meeting on Tuesday. Tyler also presented the board the revenue and expense projections, goals and objectives, and the time frame for the development of the 2017-18 fiscal year budget.

Tyler reported that pretty much everything was looking good in terms of the county’s expenses and revenues.

Revenues were running under 50 percent at the midway point of the fiscal year, but Tyler said that’s typical.

“The revenue we’ve received at the mid-way point of this year, we’ve received 39.2 percent (of what was budgeted). Last year at this point we were at 39.8 percent,” Tyler said. “We feel we’re really on track. We don’t see that the revenues are anything to be necessarily concerned about. We don’t have anything that would indicate that we won’t be rising to projections. Often times, more revenue rolls in at the end of the fiscal year than at the beginning of the fiscal year.”

Tyler said that revenue from taxes was at about 48 percent, licensing and permits is at 73 percent. While not necessarily cause for concern, Tyler said that revenues from fines and penalties (33 percent) and revenue using money (28 percent) were substantially less than in the prior fiscal year.

“While they’re not a large dollar amount in the budget, it’s something we’ll certainly keep an eye on. We would expect those to be a little higher,” Tyler said.

In terms of expenditures, Tyler said that the county had spent about 40 percent of its budget through December.

“That’s kind of where we’d expect ourselves to be,” Tyler said. Last year we were at 37 percent, so again, I think we’re maintaining with recent trends.”

General government – including the assessor, auditor, controller, county counsel, and the Board of Supervisors – had expended 43 percent of their budget. Public protection services – which includes the sheriff’s office, probation, district attorney’s office, public defender, grand jury, agriculture, Sites Reservoir, and planning and building – had spent only 41 percent of their budget. No county group had spent more than their budgeted numbers for the midyear.

Tyler credited the county’s department heads for their work on and management of their respective departments’ budgets, and told the Board that she and auditor Peggy Scroggins had no major concerns over what they had submitted. She added that no department head had approached her to formally request contingencies at this point in time.

“There are a few that we are concerned may need contingencies, mainly due to overtime. The Sheriff’s Department, particularly in the light of the flood activity, we know they have some fairly large accruals and we’ll have to see how we come out in reimbursements for those activities. The Department of Public Works has had some excessive overtime costs as well as a result of the winter weather,” Tyler said.

One potential need for contingency with the Tri-County Juvenile Detention Facility, which was ultimately out of the county’s control, drew the ire of Vice Chair Kim Vann. Tyler explained to the board that it was brought to her attention on Monday that as a component of the grant and project funding, the county appropriate not just the “match dollars” but all county funds required for completion of the program.

“We’ve budgeted just a little short of $200,000 for that. We’ve got $555,000 set aside for that. We need about another $200,000 to make the state happy and to give them the paperwork they need for the project to continue forward for the three counties,” Tyler said. She added that she had spoken with Chief Probation Officer Bill Fenton and with Scroggins, and that they would run some numbers specific to the probation budget to see what money might be available from that budget.

“I expect to come back (before the board) and ask for a contingency request for less than $100,000. We will make it as small as we possibly can, but that’s the one thing I can almost guarantee you, because I’m involved in the budget numbers of that project,” Tyler said.

She said that the money will be appropriated and would sit there and ultimately roll over into next year’s budget until the county has to actually start spending for the project. The county had initially planned on appropriating the funds at the beginning of the next fiscal year.

“Frankly, what pisses me off about it is that we had worked really hard to get the state to commit to all the small counties, that if you apply for this money, your juvenile halls and jails, you’re not going to have to do this. But as I said to Wendy, let’s save our fight for the jail discussion, rather than the juvenile hall… I think this really has to do with the state doing really a horrific budget. They did a terrible job at their budgeting, and we’re going to pay for it at every turn. This is where it’s starting, because these are the low-lying fruits… It’s frustrating,” said Vann.

‘Our fiscal problems aren’t going to be caused by our own lack of funds or mismanagement:’ First look at the ‘17-’18 Budget

Tyler told the board that the county can expect to see state-assessed property values to decline by about $165,000.

“That’s consistent with what has happened, I believe, with depreciation on the power plant. But the flip-side is, as was evidenced by this last fiscal year, even with that decline we are still one of the few counties in the state of California that are still experiencing growth,” Tyler said. “Our property taxes grew over seven percent over June of last year… We may not get seven percent again, but we’re certainly not going to be a declining county.”

State Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for state-owned land in the county will remain funded only for current disbursements, not for the past. The county will not see Federal PILT dollars in the ‘17-’18 budget, which is a loss of about $220,000, unless it gets some kind of reauthorization or new funding comes forth, Tyler said.

Indian gaming funds are all but depleted, and only the District Attorney’s office had any reserves remaining. General state distributions are expected to decline, including transportation funding, and Tyler said she didn’t expect those funds to come back.

“It’ll be interesting to see whether any of the transportation bills currently proposed, whether they come to fruition and the time it takes for the funding to be realized and that funding to hit the budgets. I don’t look for good news on the transportation front anytime soon, either, although our department has reserves,” Tyler said. “We don’t like to rely on reserves, and we are trying to be less dependent on them, but they exist to help us work through any time frame that any successful transportation bill would take to work through.”

Vann said it was part of a bigger trend of forthcoming program cuts from the state, that the county needed to plan for.

“It’s not us that’s financially insolvent. It’s the state that’s not financially solvent, and they are able to take it out on us,” Vann said.

The county’s expenditures are expected to rise slightly due to cost of living adjustments, rate increases for the Public Employee Retirement System. Assuming 100 percent of the budget positions are filled 100 percent of the time, that will cost the county an additional $900,000. Assuming a 20 percent vacancy rate, the increase would be about $720,000.

The county’s expense for insurance premiums is projected to increase 2.16 percent, or an increase of about $27,000.

A potentially huge increase in expenses will come from Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed cost shift for the In Home Supportive Services Program from the state to counties. Should it survive the May Revise, the plan is ultimately anticipated to eliminate state support for a number of programs including Public Health, Enviornmental Health, Jail Health, Indigent Health, Behavioral Health, Public Safety, and Foster Care. It would ultimately result in a nine-fold cost increase for the county to operate those programs, over the course of five years.

“If it continues – and I’m hopeful that it doesn’t, I hope we get something different out of the governor – we’re going to look at some draconian cuts, and I don’t use that word without careful consideration,” Tyler said. “It’s a huge hit when you’re talking about something that is a 900 percent cost increase for a program.”

County set to be “Essentially debt free” after ‘17-’18

Despite the difficulties presented by the state’s budgetary decisions, Tyler made a point to end her presentation on a positive note:

“Because I don’t like to end any section of this on a negative note, I do want to throw out again that our fiscal problems aren’t going to be caused by our own lack of funds or mismanagement, but by those that are larger than us,” Tyler said. “I will point out that in the next fiscal year, when we develop that budget, we will include debt payments that will leave this county nearly debt free.”

Tyler explained that it would have serious implications for upcoming budget years, freeing up about $575,000 to go back toward discretionary revenue that can be used to offset some of the anticipated revenue losses.

“You’re in a great position to do that… You have one actual debt issuance, which is for a water system improvement that has a principal allocation of $114,000. When you look at a county that has one debt issuance, you guys – well, I’m almost speechless,” Tyler said.

Vann added that the debt was interest free, and suggested that the county could look to pay it off to be “free and clear.”

“I don’t think people realize the gravity of the county being debt free,” Vann said. “Find me another one. I’m being serious. Find me another county that has no debt. It’s impressive… Boy what a difference 10, 12 years makes.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net