County faces 4.7 percent budget cuts

The county’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009-10 reduces county revenues and expenditures 4.7 percent from the 2008-09 budget and cuts 758 staff years from the 2008-09 level.

County supervisors received the proposed budget in a 5-0 vote May 12 and set June 8 as the first date of public hearings on the spending plan. Public hearings on Community Enhancement allocations from the Transient Occupancy Tax for lodging in the county’s unincorporated area will take place June 8-9, and oral public testimony on the budget will also be taken June 9. Written public testimony may be submitted through June 17, and the supervisors will begin budget deliberations June 23.

“There’s no question that hard, unpopular decisions are before us,” said board Chairman and District 2 Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

The total proposed budget is $4.94 billion, a decrease of $244 million or 4.7 percent from FY 2008-09. The county’s fiscal years run from July 1 through June 30.

“We do not expect a quick economic rebound,” said county Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard.  “We will be making hard decisions for some considerable time.”

In February, county staff estimated general fund sales and property tax revenue for FY 2008-09 to be $96 million below budget while predicting a $153 million shortfall in FY 2009-10.  The $153 million drop was based on a $57 million decrease in collected property taxes and a $96 million loss of sales tax revenue.

The county’s revenue losses also include deferred or reduced state and federal payments.  Another intergovernment uncertainty involves the state covering its deficit by shifting money from local governments.  

“We are likely to face a state fiscal crisis that spreads faster than swine flu,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts. “The state borrowing money is not nearly as secure as a subprime loan.”

In November 2004, the state’s voters passed Proposition 1A, which prevents the state from shifting local government revenues for state use. Prop. 1A can be suspended if the governor declares a fiscal emergency and a two-thirds vote of the state legislature suspends the local government protection. The $2.2 billion shift being discussed at the state level would cost the County of San Diego $70 million.

“If Proposition 1A is suspended, that’s nothing less than criminal in my opinion,” Jacob said.

The worldwide financial crisis has led to an additional $2.5 billion decrease in the county’s retirement fund as of Dec. 31, 2008.

Ekard said FYs 2009-10 and 2010-11 “will be in many ways back to basics years. The road ahead is going to challenge us all to become more creative, more flexible and more responsive.”

Because the county’s Capital Program budget involves one-time expenditures, the amount can vary from year to year, even in a more positive financial environment. The refurbishment of the County Operations Center was budgeted in 2008-09, so the 75.9 percent decrease from $406 million to $98 million for 2009-10 is due to the past appropriations rather than the economic crisis. The county’s capital budget was $34.1 million for 2007-08 and $102.4 million for 2006-07.

The 2009-10 capital budget includes $75 million for a new women’s jail, $10 million for Multiple Species Conservation Program (MSCP) land acquisition, $2.6 million to buy a 69-acre parcel planned for an active recreation area at the future San Luis Rey River Park, and $300,000 for projects at Jess Martin Park in Julian.

Capital appropriations will also be used for debt service on the county’s financing of the Edgemoor Hospital replacement. Mid-year budget adjustments could allow for additional capital projects funded by grants, mitigation payments or other one-time county income.

The 2009-10 Capital Program budget doesn’t include $11 million of planned Department of Public Works (DPW) capital assets expenditures, down from $22 million due to 2008-09 funding of major airport projects.

The county’s proposed $3.8 billion general fund budget includes $2.4 billion of revenues dedicated to specific programs, $951 million from general-purpose revenues, and $339 million from the county’s reserves or fund balances.  The county’s total reserves, including program-specific reserves, will be reduced from $839 million to $722 million.

A majority of the general-purpose revenues,  $519 million, will be allocated to the county’s Public Safety Group, which received $518 million in 2008-09.  

Consolidation activities would result in the closing of the Descanso jail, which is expected to save $10.3 million, including $5 million in overtime pay. The Public Safety Group would decentralize the SWAT special enforcement detail, delay full implementation of a DNA rapid response team at the Sheriff’s Department crime lab and discontinue non-mandated civil processes.

A reduction in District Attorney staff will likely result in increased caseloads affecting preparation time and investigation, and cases will be prioritized. District Attorney planned reductions also include victim services contacts.  The District Attorney’s office is considering reducing extradition services for fugitive defendants, closing the probation revocation unit, suspending its cold case division, and reducing participation in the fugitive task force.

State budget reductions in the Probation Department will eliminate mentally ill offender grant funding and reduce substance abuse services for offenders while county revenue losses will reduce supervision of mid-level risk offenders.

Victim services will be reduced, and the victim restitution collections unit will be eliminated. State cuts will eliminate the juvenile mentally ill offender program, school district funding cuts will reduce the number of school-based probation officers, and county revenue cuts will reduce truancy supervision and community assessment teams.

The Medical Examiner’s office will see increased response time for investigations and forensic evaluations due to staff cuts, and  Office of Emergency Services resources for certain local preparedness priorities will be reduced.

Cuts to Health and Human Services Agency programs will affect well child visits, the Critical Hours after-school program, the Aging and Independent Services radio talk show and public health outreach programs. The cutbacks will increase wait times for residents seeking services.

“I’m very concerned about the Critical Hours program,” Roberts said.

The Health and Human Services Agency hopes that nonprofit groups can replace the county in providing after-school programs.

The economic situation has created increased demand for Health and Human Services Agency programs: the CalWorks program has seen a 7 percent caseload increase, the MediCal caseload has increased by 5 percent, the caseload for food stamps has jumped 20 percent, demand for services at adult mental health outpatient clinics has increased 20 percent, and the San Diego County Psychiatric Hospital has seen a 29 percent increase in people seeking services.

The Land Use and Environment Group (LUEG) receives much of its revenue from user fees. Permit fee income is down by approximately 50 percent while gas tax revenue, which funds much of the DPW, is down about 10 percent.

Delays in permit processing and inspections are probable for LUEG departments. LUEG also anticipates reduced household hazardous waste disposal hours and the elimination of one-day recycling events. The county-operated community centers in Fallbrook, Lakeside, and Spring Valley are expected to be open fewer non-peak hours.

The Hellhole Canyon, Palomar and Wilderness Gardens open space preserves are expected to be closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. A reduction in seasonal workers is expected to create delays in park and trail maintenance.

LUEG will decrease MSCP staff, which is expected to delay the development of the East County and North County MSCP plans.

Department of Planning and Land Use (DPLU) reductions will result in fewer policy and ordinance amendments.

Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures expects a reduced level of veterinary services, the DPW will likely see reduced education and outreach for watershed protection, and the suspension of state funding will delay or eliminate Air Pollution Control District projects.

New state funding for a waste tire program will see county implementation of that new program, and DPLU will have a 19.56 percent funding increase for code enforcement.

The economic situation has also seen more citizens rely on local library resources. No County Library branches will be closed and current hours will be maintained, but a 23.67 percent reduction in services and supplies will decrease purchases of new books and other materials.  Funding for programs and discretionary maintenance will also be reduced.

Lessons learned from past elections will allow the county Registrar of Voters to be more efficient and reduce its temporary election staff budget without impacting its operations.

A reduction in County Counsel training programs and advisory services offered to county departments is expected, and delays in processing human resources activities are also likely. Services performed by the office of the Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk would be centralized with public counters being closed at 4 p.m.

Weddings on the Web and passport photos are expected to be discontinued.

“This is not a fun time to be in government,” Roberts said.

“This is the worst of the bad times that I’ve seen in local government,” said Supervisor Greg Cox, who was elected to the Chula Vista City Council in 1976, served an additional two terms as Chula Vista’s mayor, and was appointed to fill the Board of Supervisors vacancy after Brian Bilbray’s November 1994 election to Congress.

   
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