The Inyo County FY 11-12 Budget Hearing on Aug. 12 in Independence was less doom-and-gloom than one might have been expected, considering this year’s recommended budget marked a $1,206,287 (1.5%) decrease from the FY 2010-11 approved budget.
However, the recommended budget was received with appreciation rather than anger in part because it required no cuts to staff; although three positions were eliminated, said CAO Kevin Carunchio, “The positions that remain are functioning at full capacity. We’re not cutting any services.”
On the other hand, there’s also no money left over to set aside for a rainy day.
Carunchio noted at the beginning of the hearing that FY 2008-09 had marked the “zenith” of Board approved expenditures; since then, the county budget has shrunk by 6.4%, or $5,333,819.
This year the total recommended budget comes to $77,865,291, with $49,421,830 in General Fund expenditures, down $251,511 from last year, and $28,443,461 in Non-General Fund expenditures. General Fund revenues were projected at $45,828,056, while Non-General Fund revenues were projected at $24,516,171.
These revenues have decreased 9.68% since the ‘zenith’ in 08-09, in part because of a recent decrease in LADWP property tax payments, as well as decreases in unsecured property tax revenue.
To balance the deficit between General Fund expenditures and revenues, the recommended budget is looking to use $3,799,535 of the General Fund balance (or rollover) available from FY 2010-11, a move that made some supervisors at Monday’s meeting nervous.
District 2 Supervisor Susan Cash referred to this annual General Fund rollover as a “drip line” the county needed to wean itself off of. “We could do it in baby steps,” she suggested: “say next year we’ll only rely on 3.5 million; the next year only 3.4 million, and so on.”
Currently, the County uses every last drip available.
But as Carunchio noted, reliance on this rollover (accrued when positions go unfilled or when anticipated projects get shelved for some reason) is nothing new to the county, nor is it unusual for other counties, cities and states.
“My dream if we weren’t using the Fund Balance is we could actually start budgeting earlier,” he said after the hearing. “We could potentially get the budget done as soon as June.” The county waits to complete its budget until September not only because it takes the state that long to “get its act together,” but also because the county is relying on the Auditor-Controller to certify the General Fund Balance.
Not using the Fund Balance this year would mean more than $3.5 million in cuts – inevitably to staff and services.
The county’s self-described conservative approach to budgeting has allowed it to avoid these cuts so far. Even Supervisor Cash admitted “the belt’s been tight since I was a county employee 15 years ago.”
The recommended budget was received favorably for the most part by Supervisors and the assembled public. One voice of dissent came from County Coroner Leon Brune, who requested the Board consider giving his employees a raise. But the recommended budget will not have the funding to approve any Department Requested Personnel Actions this year, including requests for employee equality adjustments, career ladders, and reclassifications. Carunchio was sympathetic to Coroner Brune’s request, and stated, “I don’t have any issue with what he’s recommending, other than that I’m not recommending any personnel adjustments.”
The Board promised it would do its best to accommodate the request in the future, when it had a chance to look at overall classification issues in January.
Considering that state revenues are already 10% lower than projected, “trigger cuts” from Sacramento seem inevitable come December and could create mid-year adjustments.
Carunchio pointed out in his 50-page budget message, “one must consider whether the county could ever hope to have adequate contingencies for the level of carnage the State’s ongoing fiscal drama has the potential to visit on county finances.”
“It’s the uncertainty that makes it tough,” Carunchio continued. “The county has to provide services, but when the state baits and switches, for instance with reimbursable public safety grants, the county can get left footing the bill.”
Nevertheless, said District 3 Supervisor Rick Pucci, “I think this budget is a very good document. This is a very difficult time as we all know for economic stability, and I think you have to be self-sufficient as much as possible. I think that’s what this staff is trying to do.”
The budget is expected to be adopted Sept. 20. For more information visit www.inyocounty.us.