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Inside Tuolumne Co. Gov. Series: Balancing The Budget

How Local Government Works … and Why it Sometimes Doesn’t

This is the second in a series of discussions about Local Government. The last was a high-level overview laying the foundation for this and future discussions. It alluded to constraints on Government, predominantly fiscal, and why priority setting is essential in meeting fiscal constraints. It also touched on the need to achieve a balance between consistency and agility in decision-making. This discussion will delve in more detail into revenues and expenditures and the constraints imposed on the decision-making process.

County budgets fluctuate year-to-year based on several factors affecting revenue. The County’s 2009-2010 Budget totaled almost $155M. Budgets decreased the next two years bottoming out at $132M in 2011-12 due principally to the impacts of the recession. Since then, revenues have generally increased year-to-year with our current budget at just under $218M. Almost $13M (5.8%) was money left over from the previous year, mostly contingencies which were not needed. $38M (17.5%) came from taxes. Almost $122M (55.9%) came from Intergovernmental sources, almost exclusively State and Federal money. (In 2018-19 we saw an unusual one-time spike due to our Tree Mortality program.) Just over $18M (8.4%) came from charges for County services. The remainder, approximately $27M (12.4%) came from miscellaneous sources.

As previously mentioned, Intergovernmental monies have restrictions on how those can be spent. That constitutes over half of the County budget. For 2018-19, the County Budget calls for the following approximated expenditures: $65.7M (30.2%) on General Government operations; $58.6M (26.9%) on Public Protection; $29.3M (13.4%) on Public Infrastructure; $20.7M (9.5%) on Health and Sanitation; $24.7M (11.3%) on Public Assistance; $6.8M (3.1%) on Intergovernmental transfers; $5.9M (2.7%) on Contingencies; $3.1M (1.5%) Recreation and Education; and $2.7M (1.2%) on debt service.

County expenditures are not all discretionary. The State directs services in the areas of Public Health, Behavioral Health, Social Services and Child Support. Those areas are highly regulated and mainly financed by State and Federal government. Roads and Fire are principally, but not entirely, funded with Intergovernmental monies. Law Enforcement, Planning/Building, Recreation, Libraries and Transit are generally locally discretionary. Your Board of Supervisors has limited discretion in Budget Decisions. Two factors impact this. The first is, only a little more than 20% of our total Budget can be applied where the Board of Supervisors wishes. In Tuolumne County’s case that is $44.8M of the $217M Budget for 2018-19. The second factor is 58% of our County’s General Fund expenditures (where almost all the discretionary spending is) goes to employee wages and benefits. Overall, 39% of all Government Funds (including roads and other infrastructure improvements) goes to wages and benefits. Our fourth segment will discuss this in more detail.

This discussion focused on our County budget: Where the monies come from, and how they are allocated to different service sectors. The third segment will focus on what the County’s priorities are, how those priorities were set and how they support the County’s Vision, Mission and Values. The fourth segment will discuss one of the drivers in budgeting, employee compensation.