Finance department head, Leslie Chapman, and CAO Jim Leddy, presented the third quarter budget review at the Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting in Mammoth on Tuesday. “The third quarter budget is fairly uneventful, which is a wonderful thing,” Chapman said. “I’m not seeing anything that is alarming.”
Except for a few line item costs that needed to be adjusted, the Board discussion revolved around the implementation of a hard hiring freeze and gearing up for the next budget hearings in June. “Our biggest concern right now is next year. Our funds balance is just not that strong,” Chapman said.
“We need strategies for the ongoing costs that are outstripping our revenues,” Leddy said. Although a hiring freeze had been talked about previously, the Board had never formally adopted any such policy, hence the recent hire of some county employees. “I think a hard hiring freeze from not only the general fund, but the non-general fund makes sense not just for this fiscal year, but also for fiscal year 14/15,” Leddy said.
Adopting a hard hiring freeze policy doesn’t mean there won’t be any new hires, but only that each department will have to justify the need for any new hire before the Board of Supervisors. The county has 280 full-time employees, its lowest staffing level in 7 years. There are currently 15 unfilled positions in the general fund. A hiring freeze would, “force the departments and all of us to be more budget diligent about every hire. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to hire. It means that you’re going to have a higher threshold for the decision to hire,” Leddy said. The Board adopted the hard hiring freeze for the remainder of this fiscal year, but will reconsider the issue at the upcoming budget hearings.
Leddy proposed a new budget hearing schedule to the Board at Tuesday’s meeting. Instead of holding the budget hearings in June, and then waiting for the California State budget to be released before officially adopting the County budget in the fall, Leddy suggested adopting the budget the same week as the budget hearings. This will “actually allow people to go off and implement their budgets and do their job by the first quarter,” he said. “[This is] a more disciplined approach to adopt the budget before the start of the fiscal year. We are trying to change the course as soon as possible.”
Chapman and Leddy will use State projections to build the county’s budget in preparation for the budget hearings, and then the board can adjust the budget as needed in the first quarter review process after the official state budget is released.
“The good news is that The State is doing better than it has in a lot of years,” Leddy said. “We are not looking at deep cuts in state funding that would affect our non-general fund departments.”
Chapman and Leddy have already begun building next year’s budget and will meet with each county department in May to finalize it. “Whatever has been communicated in previous years has given the impression that we are almost out of the woods,” Leddy said. “After five years of really tough times you really hope for good times, we’re not there yet.” Leddy’s main concern is closing the structural deficit, proposing that be done through permanent cost reductions. But he’s looking to the employees to help redesign services and build a strategic plan to do this “humanely.”
Leddy will also present the projected budget in a series of Budget Town Hall meetings, in order to receive community feedback before presenting the CAO recommended budget to the Board.