During its mid-year budget review last Tuesday, March 16, Mono County’s Board of Supervisors heard a progress report from Finance Director Brian Muir, who forecast another 3-4 percent decline in property tax revenue. The County’s reserve fund balance has already been reduced $1.5 million over the past year, from $6 million to around $4.5 million, to cushion the impact of the recession.
The property tax subsidence decreased the Board’s contingency line item from more than $300,000 to less than $200,000. All this comes in advance of the unknown budgetary banana peels yet to be thrown by the 800-pound gorilla in the room: the state of California.
Muir said the only other major expense involved costs incurred during a recent criminal case, which dealt a $300,000 hit to the General Fund. The money was used in part to cover the costs of bringing in an outside public defender and some expert witnesses called during the proceedings. Even if the public defender had been able to come from inside the County, Muir said there would still have been “significant expenses” to reconcile, both from the District Attorney’s and the PD’s offices.
Supervisors made clear they were less than sanguine about more spending on funding requests, especially in light of recently honored contractual salary boosts, and said up front that much of the held-over funding requests probably would be held yet again, at least until the next full budget review. “I look at mid-year as adjusting revenue and costs, not spending money,” said Supervisor Tom Farnetti.
Punctuating that position, Board Chair Byng Hunt issued this warning to groups seeking County support over the next few years: “The reality is the County is facing dire straits … things are going to be tight,” he said, adding that before anyone makes any requests, they should make sure such requests are well documented, worthwhile and revenue sharing if at all possible.
In terms of health and human services programs, Lynda Salcido said she doesn’t want to hit up the Board for anything other than mandated match dollars. Fees recovered from billing back to the state, she said, will likely be available in April and advised the Board that the Public Health budget can be adjusted after that point to address any shortfalls.
A decision on a go-ahead for a new developer impact fee study was pulled out of the budget review and will be brought back as a separate item. Every five years, the County is obligated to look at DIF and is currently in year five.
Funding for the Mammoth Soccer and the Swim teams, as well as for various Capital Improvement Project requests, were put back in the freezer. So was potential funding for a County advertising convergence study and a state fair presence. Both of those items were voluntarily pulled by Economic Development Director Dan Lyster.
The Board rejected a request by Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Randy Schienle to fund 33 percent of a School Resource Officer position for the Mammoth schools.
“If the Town wants to send the Board $40,000, we’ll put a Sheriff’s deputy in there,” Supervisor Hap Hazard quipped. “Is there a possibility of reassigning Steve Searles?”
“I’ll sit down on that one,” Schienle replied.
Cost sharing for a School Resource Officer for MLPD was already approved by Mammoth’s Town Council. A third source of funding is Mammoth Unified School District, which Schienle said is in a similar situation as the County, though he did say Interim Superintendent Rich McAteer is actively looking for at least some amount of funding (if not the entire amount of the School District’s one-third portion) to help keep that officer on campus.
According to Schienle, since the tragic Columbine shootings in 1999, there have been an additional 35 school shootings, most in rural areas and all of them on campuses without a School Resource Officer. “It’s a great service and a huge insurance policy for the Town and the County,” he said of the program’s history. Sheriff Rick Scholl commented to supervisors that he was completely behind the program.
Supervisors agreed it’s an important program with value, and that public safety is important, and asked Chief Schienle to bring back the item for consideration during the next full budget review cycle.
Not all requests, however, were shelved. A few small items swayed supervisors and got some very modest amounts of cash infusion. Among other requests granted: an ADA improvement code upgrade project, diverting some funding to Bridgeport from the Chalfant community center, which will likely be replaced sometime within the coming ten years. Costs on that one are being kept in line by charging more of the labor to in-house accounts. Also approved, a Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra request for matching funds ($3,163) for a portable chair lift for the Whitmore Pool, which the Board agreed was an expense easily justified on several levels. The device is a completely self-contained, portable unit that requires no actual installation and can be stored when not in use.