Leddy, Mono Supes deliver tough budget news … but employees wonder if all the talk cuts the mustard.Mono County Board of Supervisors held a mid-year budget review as part of their weekly meeting on Tuesday in Bridgeport— in front of a boardroom full of County employees.
The Board of Supervisors asked Mono County staff to invite all County employees to attend the Mid-Year Budget Review: “There has been a change in Board direction to greater transparency and accountability,” said County Administrative Officer, Jim Leddy. Leslie Chapman, the Mono County Finance Officer since May, said, “There were a lot of people in the room not necessarily normally involved in the process at this level. And that’s great.” However, this did generate lots of questions and even some confusion as to how the proposed Budget changes will affect County employees.
Leddy began the discussion by presenting the current financial situation, what attempts the County has already made to cut costs, and a cost containment plan as they begin to build the 2014-15 County budget. “This is not about the short term but the long term,” Leddy said. “Change is coming whether we do something or not.”
Property taxes, the major source of revenue for the County, are still in decline, sales tax is flat and the tourism industry needs more snow. In essence, expenditures are rising and revenues aren’t keeping up, leaving the county with a structural deficit. “The reality is that as a responsible organization our expenditures are outstripping our revenues and we have to figure it out,” said Leddy.
“It’s probably going to be another two years before the property taxes go back up and property values rise,” said Chapman. Leddy warned everyone not to get their hopes up: “We’re recovering at a snail’s pace. The reality is that we don’t know recovery is going to come.”
In addition to the dropping revenues, County Reserves have gone towards operating costs since 2009. “The reserves have been all used up to supplement over the last five years. And that’s different from past budgets,” said Chapman. “And a little scary for me.”
The major question that arises from looking at the budget is how can Mono County preserve the services they provide while containing their costs?
All Mono County departments were asked to reduce their general fund expenditures by 5% in an attempt to generate savings for the County Reserves to start building the 2014-15 Budget. “Every department gave a very strong effort. But virtually nobody made it,” said Leddy. The Countywide result over the past three months was a 2.64% general fund reduction, providing $737,331 net savings to go into the reserves.
Leddy also presented the cost containment plan, which includes reducing labor costs (which makes up 52% of the annual budget), furloughs for employees, voluntary workforce reduction, strategic planning to redesign services, using the County reserves, and ultimately involuntary workforce reduction, or layoffs.
Leddy assured the Board and the packed room that the financial situation of the County is not the employees’ fault. “There are less people working, doing the same amount of work if not more,” he said. “But it’s costing more because of factors beyond our control.” Leddy and Chapman offered to meet with any employee or group of employees to further discuss the cost containment plan, before opening the boardroom to comments.
It was difficult for Mono County employees to hear about more cutbacks, unpaid days off and the threat of layoffs, when they haven’t seen a raise in four years. Supervisor Johnston asked employees “What are you thinking?” as people were slow to comment after Leddy’s presentation.
Mary Clark, who has worked for 24 years in Public Works said: “We are one of the lowest paid counties in the State of California. So to say, now you need to take another cut, or you need to take $383 a month from my check for a furlough day? I’m getting ready to retire and that loss is going to hurt me because it just means I have to work longer. Trust me, I love the County, but I want to go. I’m not blaming you as a Board because it’s been many Boards before you.”
District Attorney Tom Kendall asked the Board to consider cutting services before cutting labor costs: “A lot of the cuts that have been addressed have been shouldered by employees, but one thing that the Board has to focus on is the services that we provide. At some point in time, cuts to services are not only a possibility but a probability. I think the Board needs to really look outside the box, use the department heads and employees to see where cuts in services can be made to really provide the savings. We aren’t required to provide a lot of the services we do. We do it because we like serving the citizens. But reality is, with less employees and certainly with disgruntled employees we are going to have to do less with less.”
As employees continued to comment and the Board meeting ran past noon, the Supervisors’ lunch was delivered to the boardroom. County Assessor Bob Musil was quick to comment at the podium: “You’re asking all the departments to make cuts and you’re asking employees to make sacrifices and we just watch someone deliver your lunch in here. It’s not a big thing but it’s definitely a symbolic thing. I would suggest that your Board would show everybody you are sharing in the cuts and perhaps look at ways like that you can look at the cuts.”
This put the Supervisors on the defensive as they explained the salary and benefit cuts they have also taken. “I think its important that if you sit up here, to walk the walk and I think I am walking the walk,” said Supervisor Stump. “I knew this day was coming. I stepped forward. I took some cuts,” said Supervisor Fesko. Supervisor Johnston said, “One of the first things I did after I was elected was reduce my compensation and pay by almost 30%. I just wanted you to know that. I haven’t made a big deal about it, but felt it was something right to do.”
After lunch, the Supervisors discussed each department’s budget before adopting the recommended actions including transferring the $737,331 into the General Fund to start building next year’s budget and the Cost Containment Plan that will affect employees.