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Facing Fiscal “Crisis,” Supes Approve Preliminary Budget

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Tuolumne County Administrator C. Brent Wallace and various county department heads painted a dark picture for Supervisors on Tuesday, before the board approved its preliminary 2003-2004 budget. As it stands, the budget calls for some layoffs, elimination of some vacant positions, and cuts in some services. Those cuts include closing the Pinecrest and Jamestown Library branches.

Board Chairman Mark Thornton began the discussion by holding up a €œNo Whining€ sign.

Administrator Wallace began his presentation by reminding board members that the state, as of June 20th, is €œflat broke.€ Even though Governor Davis has put forth some solutions for fixing California€™s $38 billion deficit, €œthey (the legislature) have not acted upon any of those at this point,€ Wallace said. €œI know it sounds like whining, Mr. Thornton, when I begin a county budget presentation by reciting state actions that cause Tuolumne County deficits,€ Wallace said. €œOur local economic picture is good. The lack of control of our budget is where the deficiency is,€ he said.

As the state deals with its own fiscal crisis, €œThe impact upon Tuolumne County is a straight out reduction in your general fund discretionary revenue,€ Wallace told the board. Wallace also pointed to the skyrocketing cost of Workers€™ Compensation as a big problem.

Supervisor Paolo Maffei believes the county should explore new revenue sources to help avoid layoffs. For example, he suggested that growth impact fees be extended to include commercial development. Right now, those fees only apply to new homes.

€œWe have to scrape as best we can to get some more revenue to avoid having to lay off people who are performing real services to the county,€ Maffei said. €œI don€™t think we have waste in the county staff. At the state level, yes (there is waste),€ he added.

Sheriff Dick Rogers told the board that he can€™t afford to lose two vacant positions that were eliminated under Wallace€™s proposed budget. The board agreed to change the budget to allow the Sheriff to hire two deputy guards at the county jail. If the board had not done that, the county€™s top law enforcement official said he would have been forced to set some inmates free.

€œThis is a liability issue, and there€™s no other way to say it,€ Rogers said.

The county jail did not pass its last state inspection, because of insufficient staffing. The county is now in the process of hiring the two additional deputies. Rogers estimates that the jail houses between 140 and 150 inmates each week.

County Public Works Director Peter Rei reminded the board of the fiscal problem his department is facing. €œWe€™re kind of at the rock bottom of our road fund now and have been for some time,€ he said. €œI hope that doesn€™t fit the definition of €˜whining,€™ it€™s more a matter of fact,€ Rei told Supervisor Thornton, still holding his sign.