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Supes Approve “Negative” Budget

Tuolumne County Supervisors have approved a spending plan for the coming year that the county´s administration is calling a “negative” budget. Administrator C. Brent Wallace said the 2003-2004 budget negatively impacts service levels in “virtually every department.”

The balanced budget includes only one layoff, but leaves almost all of the currently vacant positions unfilled. Under one of the board’s policies, the county budget should include $1 million in reserve funds. But, under the budget approved Tuesday, about half that much was set aside for unexpected circumstances like natural disasters.

Supes reinstated one position in the Tax Collector’s office and one position for Animal Control. Those jobs had been slated for elimination under the preliminary budget approved earlier this year.

$2 million was set aside for the ongoing deficit at Tuolumne General Hospital. Earlier this year, the board approved a financial recovery plan for the health care facility. In December, the board will hear a report on how that plan is working.

The board decided not to give any money to the local Economic Development Company or the Arts Council this year. They did, however, allow for a $20,000 contribution to the Tuolumne County Museum. In the past, the county contributed as much as $100,000 in one year to the Arts Council. One county official said those were “rosy” years.

But now, all over California, local governments like Tuolumne County are being let down by the fiscal meltdown in Sacramento.

County officials say one of the biggest broken promises has to do with money for road work.

Under the state spending plan signed by Governor Davis, funding approved through Proposition 42 has been suspended. That means over the next year there will be no reconstruction, re-paving, or chip sealing done on Tuolumne County’s roughly 600 miles of county maintained roads.

County public works officials say there will only be enough money to do the bare minimum of upkeep, such as clearing brush from shoulders of roads.

“For us to not be doing any physical work on our pavement in this county is appalling,” said Supervisor Mark Thornton. “Every time you defer maintenance, particularly when you’re dealing with roads, it’s going to come back…probably at a triple-cost later on,” he said. He also cited well-maintained roads as being one the top priorities of his constituents.

Another big problem for the county is the state’s inability to pay Vehicle License Fees. Tuolumne County is losing $650,000 in Vehicle License Fee revenue this year.

When the VLF was greatly reduced during the 1990´s, the state took money from its general fund to continue to send the same level of funding to local governments. That was when the state had a surplus and could afford to do that. But now that the state is broke, it won’t have the cash to make those payments until the higher VLF can be implemented, which will take three months.

“If these things are hard to understand, it’s because they defy all logic,” lamented Supervisor Paolo Maffei. “If a corporation did this, they would be in jail.”

“The sad thing is,” Administrator Wallace told Maffei, “after 33 years I think I’m starting to understand it.”