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Calaveras Budget Hearings, ‘Quick, Civil’

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San Andreas, CA — This week’s roll out of Calaveras County’s recommended budget was a smooth one, according to the county’s chief administrative officer.

“We’ve had a few contentious budget hearings in the past,” CAO Shirley Ryan ruefully admits, especially, she recalls, while dealing with the fallout in the wake of the revenue-killing Great Recession.

This year’s round of budget talks wound up by midweek, according to Ryan. “Quite frankly, they are the quickest recommended budget hearings that I can recall in my years with the county, and I think that it’s because of the work that the departments were willing to do ahead of time,” she states. Overall, she summarizes, “It was very quick and everybody was very civil…and stated their requests and their arguments for those requests. I don’t think there was a lot of push back. The sheriff, I’m sure, wished he could have gotten a few more things that he was asking for, but it really went very well, very smoothly.”

Of reducing the county’s deficit to under a million dollars reliance on the use of one-time funds, Ryan states,”I am really pleased that the board has taken the measures over the last two years to close that budget deficit. We’re too small of a county to try to do that all in one year, especially with the gap we were facing a few years ago of $8.2 million.”

This Year’s Numbers

The county staff’s Recommended Budget presentation included revenues of $106 million and appropriations of $121.5 million, using fund balances of $15.5 million to finance the difference. In the General Fund, where the board’s discretionary spending funds are housed, revenues of $39.4 million and appropriations of $41.8 million were balanced using projected one-time resources.

These include a $2.4 million fund balance from fiscal year 2014-15 and a transfer from the county’s Teeter Fund of just under $1 million, some 46 percent less, year-over-year, in appropriations from what had become a “go-to” pot for balancing the ledger. The budget additionally taps the Teeter for $1.5 million to cover a much needed overhaul of the county’s IT infrastructure.

Among the proposed additional expenditures, the new budget supports a new position each in the district attorney’s office and department of animal services, which currently only has two service officers to cover the entire county. Other additions include a school service officer as well as a veterans services representative, a nod to the county’s numerous veterans.

Outside of the recommendations, the board wants to increase the county’s General Fund contribution to the library by $31,154, and obtain two patrol cars for the Sheriff’s Department through a three-year lease purchase, totaling $42,000.

Sheriff Support

Although Ryan maintains that the board’s highest priority has always been law enforcement, she says, “Right now, the Sheriff is having some retention issues and as a result, has some vacant positions, and to me, it doesn’t make sense to allocate funding for new positions that may or may not be filled. Now, he has brought forward to our office a couple of ideas to assist with recruitment and quite frankly, I’m very excited about them.” She adds that Sheriff Gary Kuntz is expected to flesh out and present a proposal for a recruitment and intern program in the coming weeks.

Sheriff Kuntz, who had requested $800,000 over the recommended budget, agreed to fund body armor, night-vision goggles, rifles and covert cameras out of his department’s funds. His request for jail communications enhancement funding, Ryan says, will come from general fund and some Measure J monies, as the purchase directly relates to the original jail construction project.

The county’s biggest source of revenue — property taxes — look to be up by four percent this next fiscal year, according to Ryan, who also points to a five percent increase in local tax monies, and increases in septic system and building permits, as positive economic signs. With the nation on its sixth year coming out of the recession, she affirms, “It’s all those things…the inland counties and the mountain rural counties have a tendency to rebound slower, but we see indications of good things on the horizon…but we don’t want to go gangbusters [spending-wise] when we know things are still on a slow climb.”

Ryan says staff will return the budget with the few adjustments that the board made for approval at the June 23 meeting. After that, she says, “I know that, come September…once the books have closed and property tax rolls have closed, [if] there’s additional funding…my first recommendation will be to increase the contingency amount, so that we are at least at a three percent contingency for the adopted budget.”