With the County of Inyo’s budget deadline for 2014-15 coming up in just two months, Inyo’s Board of Supervisors continues to struggle with how to balance a budget that could have a structural deficit of as much as $6.3 million. Various proposals under the Service Redesign continue to be disputed on the Library and Museum budgets.
2014-15 Budget Update
CAO Kevin Carunchio gave an update to the board on the 2014-15 budget, telling the supervisors that the projected $6.3 million structural deficit could be what he describes as “a hard number” and that he is concerned that department revenues could well be overstated. If so, the deficit might even be larger than currently projected.
In the past, funds left over from the previous year’s budget by not filling vacant job positions, postponing major equipment purchases, and other cost-saving measures were used to offset the next year’s budget deficit, but that is getting more and more difficult to do. Carunchio said that doing so for the 2014-15 fiscal year is “a crap shoot and risk.” He went on to say that the following fiscal year (2015-16) will even be more difficult.
In an obvious response to recent public comments being made in local news media forums, Carunchio said that the idea that he planned to cut the deficit with money from Los Angeles Water and Power from the Southern Owens Valley Solar Ranch was “complete and utter nonsense.”
Carunchio had Auditor-Controller Amy Shepherd present the board with three versions of what the county budget would look like with a reduction of $1.8 million, $2.35 million, and $6.3 million, should the board consider across the board cuts to all county departments. Carunchio recommended that the supervisors not use County Reserves to offset any of the deficit.
Department meetings and budget workshops will continue using the information provided by Shepherd toward balancing of the budget. If the supervisors choose to bring more stability to the annual budgeting process, they might decide that it is better to “go for broke” and eliminate as much of the chronic structural deficit as possible to “get to the bottom line.” That however, appears unlikely anytime soon.
Outgoing Supervisor Linda Arcularius’s position was that the county should not try to completely eliminate the structural deficit this upcoming year, but spread it out over several years. Supervisor Jeff Griffiths would like to see it tackled as soon as possible so the county could look to the future and begin tackling more positive issues such as economic development.
New County Animal Shelter
While Supervisors are still in the doghouse with the public over the pay raises granted to county employees last November that added $1.8 million to an already existing budget deficit, on the bright side the Board fast-tracked approval to award a contract to build the new Animal Shelter in Big Pine, a project funded through a public-private partnership.
ICARE (Inyo/Mono County Animal Resources & Education) President Ted Schade, has said that “by providing a center for both pets and people that will be more spacious, more comfortable and more efficient, the dogs and cats will be better cared for and the public will have a Pet Adoption Center that we can all be proud of.” If the supervisors cannot find a way to get out of the doghouse with the public over the pay raise deficit issue, there is always the option that they can find accommodation at the new animal shelter? speaking of which:
The new Inyo County Animal Shelter project was unanimously green lighted by the Board of Supervisors on a motion by a proud 4th District Supervisor Mark Tillemans to proceed with signing a contract bid from Rudolph Construction, Inc. of Bishop, CA, in the amount of $699,960.
Deputy Public Works Director Jim Tatum said the organization ICARE, which was founded in 1997, would provide $416,000 toward the total. The County is providing $375,000 to the effort. The current project budget amount is $770,000 with additional identified project costs for a seismic study, extension of power service, county forces site preparation work, and future construction phase materials testing. The final estimate, including the currently anticipated project costs are $834,960.
ICARE President, Ted Schade, told the board that the recent spaghetti dinner fundraiser by the Lions Club and the Rotary Club raised $25,000 and there will be continuing efforts to raise additional funds.
The new, very much-needed animal shelter is slated for completion in December.
Library-Museum Service Redesign
Moving forward on the county’s Service Redesign efforts for the Library and the Eastern California Museum, the supervisors unanimously approved creating a new, combined position of Library/Museum Asst. using two part-time employees that would generate a total savings of $71,000. The change will allow the Museum to be open at least 6 days per week while imposing minimal impact on Library operations.
Approval of the move was not without opposition from Rose Masters, the daughter of Library Director Nancy Masters, who has spent much of her life as a child “volunteering” inside the library, which drew laughter from the audience. She encouraged the supervisors, as did Mary Roper, the sister of Nancy Masters, to not gut the library system’s budget any more that it has already been gutted over the past several years. Dave Wagner of Independence and Pastors Erin and Matt McPhee joined others pleading with the supervisors to recognize the value of the libraries to the public, especially for low-income residents.
Second District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths said, in response to a quote by Thomas Jefferson “That libraries play a vital role in creating an informed public, and an informed public is vital to democracy,” that “If closing on Monday is a threat to democracy, then 70 percent of counties in America have already ruined democracy.”
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said that she was in favor of the more draconian Service Redesign Option 4, which would combine the Library and Museum directors’ positions, make personnel and staffing changes, and cuts in hours of operations for savings of $147,096, double the amount being saved by the board’s approval of the combined Library/Museum part-time staffing position. There appears little appetite for this approach with the other supervisors noting public opposition to the idea.
Community Partnership Plan
The County Probation Department gave the board a very good workshop on the updated local Community Corrections Partnership Plan. Several county departments collaborated on the plan whose main emphasis was on how to deal with the state’s returning prisoners to county jails and the associated burden on county resources.
During the lengthy presentation, District Attorney Tom Hardy said the state’s actions have impacted how his office views prosecuting crimes, while Sheriff Lutze expressed concerns over escalating costs of running the jail and escalating violent incidents that accompany the “prison culture” that comes with incarcerating prisoners for long periods. Health and Human Services Director Jean Turner explained how HHS plans to use Medi-Cal and Medicare to mitigate costs related to health and medical issues, but expressed concern that the budget to pay for medical care of jail inmates could go from little to through the roof. Probation Officer Jeff Thomson told supervisors that the state’s actions have made it imperative that his employees undergo lots of training and that the main goal is to reduce recidivism (return) rates of probationers and prisoners back into the jail.
It seems that no matter what the issue before the Board of Supervisors, it always returns to how much something is going to cost, which and what level of services will the county be able to provide, and how much longer the juggling act of forwarding previous budget balances forward to cover the structural deficit of the upcoming fiscal year’s budget will be possible. But the good news? There will be a new County Animal Shelter by the end of the year!