Tuesday, March 25, 2008

budget stuff, pt. 1

By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Solve the budget crisis: play musical chairs.
Moving money around was the theme in Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting regarding how to weather this year’s fiscal crisis.
The general revenue fund is short 10 percent, so department heads strategized how to replace missing local dollars with non-local grant money. For each all-purpose local dollar, the county spends almost three federal and state specified-purpose grant dollars.
So there’s lots of potential for financial juggling.
Planning and Public Works has around a million and a half gas tax dollars to spend on roads over three years — so department head Dan Obermeyer brought in a proposal to spend the whole sum in two years and give janitorial staff road maintenance jobs.
The proposal would free $500,000 for next year.
Supervisor Tracey Quarne drew laughs after noting that Mr. Obermeyer had come up with half a million dollars in 24 hours and asking what he was doing the rest of the week.
Health Services head Scott Gruendl mentioned working with Sheriff Larry Jones to get partial grant funding for a domestic violence position, though Sheriff Jones says that’s likely on hold for now.
Unfortunately, mused supervisor John Amaro, the actions under consideration would be more of “applying a Band-Aid” than addressing long-term problems.
“It’s not a Band-Aid anymore,” replied supervisor Tracey Quarne. “It’s triage now.”
The two other ways to solve the problem, noted supervisors, were cutting costs and increasing revenues.
While over 80 suggestions were e-mailed to the supervisors by department heads, few went under discussion by the board.
At least one seemed to already be in place.
Mr. Obermeyer merely recommended that an incentive program be put in place “to give rewards for employees and the general public” for ideas that helped cut costs or expand service. But Mr. Gruendl asked employees for cost-cutting ideas and then rewarded the top three — of 41 he sent to supervisors — with gift cards to a restaurant of choice, Starbucks and Wal-Mart.
When supervisors called for revenue-generating proposals, finance director Don Santoro came up with ideas like raising sales and utility taxes.
“When I talked about revenue generation, I was not thinking of additional taxes,” said Tom McGowan.
“What else did you have in mind?”, replied Mr. Santoro.
Mr. Santoro submitted savings estimates for a plan to cut both staff pay and workweek hours by 10 to 12.5 percent. Though the plan would eliminate almost the entire shortfall, it was panned by department heads.
Sheriff Jones said he knew of five officers that would go elsewhere if the plan was to go into effect; Child Services’ Carroll Raglund and Mr. Obermeyer made similar claims of distress, but without giving figures.
Noting that his department got only six percent of total revenue from the general fund, Mr. Obermeyer said that he would “have a hard time penalizing (the other) 94 percent of my staff.”
Department heads also warned of service cuts.
Chief Probation Officer Brandon Thompson noted that closing juvenile hall, a possibility, would save $175,000 a year. But, he warned, the $90 per day cost of taking teens to an out-of-county juvy would likely result in police simply citing and releasing all youth committing crimes short of murder or violent burglary.
Given a proposal to sponsor Orland’s Community Expo to the tune of $750, supervisors cited budgetary problems in turning them down — instead paying for it out of their own pockets.
The budget session of Tuesday’s meeting was a veritable Who’s Who of Glenn County; in addition to Mr. Obermeyer, Mr. Gruendl, and Sheriff Jones, Chief Probation Officer Brandon Thompson, Agricultural Commissioner Mark Black, and Willows police chief Bill Spears attended. The usually half-empty chambers were almost full.

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