The Colusa County Board of Supervisors last week approved a temporary recommended budget for 2019-20 that is $2.3 million in the red.
The $97 million “stop gap” budget will allow the local government to function until they must approve a final budget in September, officials said at the board’s June 25 regular meeting.
County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler said she would normally present the board a fairly solid budget this time of year, knowing that it would only need minor adjustments, but with expenses outpacing revenue, presenting a balanced budget with zero deficit was out of the question.
“In a budget year where we have had expenses come in at $14 million more than revenue across the budget – not just the general fund but across the budget – we’ve obviously done a whole lot of manipulating to bring things into line,” Tyler said.
Tyler said that even after using special district and special revenue funds, such as road funds, to bring the budget into some alignment, the county still has a major shortfall in the general fund. The proposed budget recommends a 10 percent across-the-board cut in office supplies, transportation, travel, training, and education, reduces set aside money for contingency, and adds no money to reserves.
“We have eliminated a majority of all the special projects, and we made some very targeted reductions in certain departments,” Tyler added.
Tyler said that if departments had a historic vacancy rate, such as 15 percent over the past eight years, then the county assumed it would continue, thus those salaries and benefits have been cut.
“My hope is that by the time we get to September – and I’m trying to be an optimist – is that a lot of those things we have had to cut (will be restored),” she said. “I don’t want anyone to panic. I just want people to spend judiciously between now and September while we get this thing tightened up.”
The county’s general fund portion of the proposed budget is $31.9 million, which includes $2 million for the Sheriff’s Department, down from $2.3 million last year, and $1.1 million for the jail, down from $2.3 million last year. The county also proposed reduced spending in the agriculture, animal control, planning and building, probation, personnel, and election departments.
Overall, the county anticipates spending about $1.5 million more than they did last year, largely on social services, behavioral health services, and roads, but general fund spending is about $1.4 million less, largely due to reductions in property taxes and other revenue.
“There is still just a lot of moving parts here,” Tyler said.
One of the factors driving the county’s budget woes is the increase in pension contributions for public employees.
“Our PERS contributions went up almost $1 million dollars this year,” Tyler said. “Rates went up.”
According to calmatters.org, between 2007 and 2016, before the 2017-18 stock market surge, CalPERS’ total liabilities increased 76 percent, from $248 billion to $436 billion, while its assets increased just 19 percent, from $251 billion to $298 billion, sharply increasing the fund’s unfunded liabilities.
According to Pension Tracker, the total market pension debt in California is more than $1 trillion, the second highest in the nation after Alaska, with pensions for local (non-public safety) government employees averaging $74,599 in 2018, while the average pension for local public safety retirees was $108,320.
While an Arbuckle resident asked at last week’s board meeting for the county to invest in better animal control facilities, Tyler said this year’s budget doesn’t have the money for it.
This year’s budget includes a one-time contribution of $750,000 for construction for the juvenile detention center and $150,000 to remodel the Farm Credit building in order to put county offices into county facilities, which means that additional funding for facilities was not possible, Tyler said.
“I think what we have to do going forward is to look to increasing our revenue,” she said. “Continuing to cut expenses in not going to work without cutting services, and that is not what we are here to do. We are here to provide services.” ■