Tuesday, February 26, 2008

budget crisis coming...

General fund 10% short; Supes eye protecting cops
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willlows — Humorist P.J. O’Rourke said of government budgets: you can take 10 percent off the top of anything.

Mr. O’Rourke, welcome to Glenn County.

A preliminary budget shows a $2.3 million shortfall out of a total of $19 million of general revenue. This is the first time numbers have been put down on paper, but it’s clear the process isn’t going to be pretty.

“Everything is on the table,” said Supervisor Tracey Quarne. Mr. Quarne repeated the phrase five times in a 20-minute interview.

“I will lose sleep over this until it is resolved,” said Sheriff Larry Jones.

The budget before the supervisors applied an equal percentage cut in funds to all departments. A department with a $1 million budget would lose a bit over $100,000 in revenue; a department with a $500,000 budget would lose a bit over $50,000.

But supervisors singled out law enforcement as an “essential service” and a “priority,” and said they’d make it a higher priority for funding than other programs.

An even distribution of cuts “might be fair when you’re doing a math problem,” said Mike Murray, “but it’s not fair to the citizens.”

Sheriff Jones couldn’t estimate how much a 10 percent revenue cut would increase the crime rate. However, he cited personnel figures in saying that such cuts would “decimate” law enforcement.

“We couldn’t operate the jail,” he said. “The state mandates staffing levels. We’re at the minimum.”

The shortfall is a result of falling sales and property tax revenue. Property taxes usually increase when homes are sold, because their values are re-appraised. With inflation and a decline in the housing market, said Finance Director Don Santoro, expenses are increasing much faster than revenue.

The county is legally required to pass a balanced proposed budget by July 20.

Asked about the 10 county jobs supervisors approved before the budget discussions as exceptions to a hiring freeze, Mr. Quarne said he thought the board was being cautious.

“But I do foresee a day where ‘no’ will be the majority view,” he said.

“We’re going to make it the least unpleasant as humanly possible,” Mr. Quarne continued. “But these are tough dimes.”

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