The Mono County Board of Supervisors and staff established budget direction for the 2010-2011 fiscal year this week, but that meant mustering courage — Indiana Jones courage — and digging deep — Indiana Jones deep — to keep County coffers in the black.
The $67 million budget is balanced, and includes $203,000 for contingencies and $4.5 million in reserves. Part of that balancing, however, will mean tapping $1.3 million in reserves to cover various shortfalls, including shoring up the general fund contingency reserve, replenishing the Roads budget and funding capital improvement projects.
Some of the positions lost as a result of “attrition” will likely remain unfilled, such as newly-elected District 1 Supervisor Larry Johnston’s planning position. There were no apparent reductions in top-level administrative salaries or positions.
Among items discussed: shortfalls in solid waste revenue. Construction formerly comprised half the waste business, but the falloff in building has left the department cash-strapped. Closing landfills isn’t an option, but the Board is considering shutting down one day per week as a cost-saving measure.
In the interim, the Board approved a $1.2 million short-term “loan” from the reserves to the General Fund, until a “corrective plan” can be devised, cutting the Board’s reserves just about in half.
Supervisors also opted to board up the Sheriff’s Substation building and hold off spending $82,000 to demolish it – at least for now.
Travel budgets were scrutinized, especially several that went up significantly. Supervisor Tom Farnetti said he didn’t mind increases as long as they were justifiable. “I don’t want to just hold them at last year’s levels,” he said, “but I do want them to be realistic.” For now, travel expenses were agreed to be held to last year’s actuals, unless budgeted lower already.
Community Development, which has a pending contract with Intrawest in the offing, will be staffing-challenged (or staffed appropriately, depending upon your perspective) in light of two retirements.
Public Works has to deal with one retirement and two other employees who are unable to work at the moment, as well as the departure of director Evan Nikirk. Jeff Walters is serving as Acting Director. Whether Walters’ previous position will be filled is unclear.
Supervisor Hap Hazard pushed for $40,400 to begin engineering work in anticipation of constructing a possible Emergency Medical Services station in Benton. Farnetti supported the idea, but Supervisor Vikki Bauer said she wants to see more data from Chalfant and opined further that the emergency isn’t here yet, and said she’s concerned that it amounts to asking for the whole $800,000 EMS facility.
Farnetti added he’s not ready to push the button on going ahead with a full EMS station out there yet, but that a study at least gets some of the initial work done, so that when the time is right, the County will be more ready to move forward.
On a related policy item, Farnetti asked for and got consensus from his fellow Board members to increase from $100,000 to $125,000 the First Responder Fund line item, essentially a supplemental pool of money small district fire departments can draw from for miscellaneous needs.
Reviewing the Economic Development Department’s budget was simple enough, but did elicit a couple of major issues raised by Supervisor Bob Peters, who advised EDD Director Dan Lyster that the County’s support of $45,000 subsidy to ensure year round air service to the Mammoth airport was contingent on Mammoth Mountain Ski Area showing more support for promoting Mono County destinations.
Lyster told Peters he’s planning on working not only with MMSA, but also with Mammoth Lakes Tourism to address that concern.
Peters also recommended the Board consider getting economically involved in the “Eastern Sierra Assessment Project” to inventory the County’s tourism assets, which he thinks could mean more effective promotion of them. “We need a strategic economic development plan for the entire county to fill in the gaps for the way our eonomy works all year round,” Peters said. “We should spend money developing Conway Ranch and the rest of the county.”
Cost for the ESAP, which is already in progress, is $250,000, Sierra Business Council, he said, has already spent $150,000 on its part of the ESAP in both Inyo and Mono counties. The County, he thinks, should kick in at least some of the remaining $100,000 to finish that study, ideally bringing in corporate and other partnerships to help reduce the County’s share of the amount.
Bauer was initially hestitant, suggesting deferring it to mid-year, but Peters asked for it be taken up sooner rather than later. Farnetti said he was open to the idea, but cautioned “there may have to be trade-offs.” Hazard warned what his reaction will be if the “fish get a 60% raise, but deputies get 2%.”
Peters, however, fired back, “If we don’t grow our economy, we won’t have 2% for the deputies.” The item was deemed too much too soon; however, it wasn’t pushed to mid-year, either. The Board plans to schedule the project as an agenda item with SBC reps present.
Approval of the budget is expected during the Board’s second meeting next month on Sept. 14.