County budget faces tough cuts
“The low-hanging fruit is gone.”
That was the summary Plumas County Budget Officer Jack Ingstad delivered April 12 in a briefing to the Board of Supervisors.
Ingstad said the county would continue to face some tough cutback choices with a looming revenue shortfall, which he estimates will range between $1.1 million and $1.7 million, on the horizon.
More cuts appear inevitable.
The county’s department heads and employees are currently being asked to find savings wherever possible, including voluntary furloughs.
“Right now we are just asking for savings to end the fiscal year, so we can begin next fiscal year with some money,” Ingstad told the board.
He added that $84,079 has already been transferred to the general fund through departmental cost-cutting.
“People are being pretty creative and coming forward with quite a few savings,” Ingstad said. “After (a recent) meeting I had with department heads and employees, I had about $350,000 given for next year’s budget from department heads that sat in that meeting.”
That belt-tightening certainly helps. But Ingstad stressed more will be needed.
His proposal for possible actions by the county include:
•Four-day workweeks of nine hours per day with Fridays off. The result would be a 10 percent reduction in salaries.
•Reductions in salary, benefits and pension contributions.
•Reduction of community contributions.
•Restructuring of county fair operations.
•Further reduction of professional services, cellphones and travel.
•Reduction of outside legal services.
•Use of one-time monies (not reserves).
•Elimination of $125,000 in projects completed.
•Not filling three currently vacant full-time employee positions. A savings of $160,000.
•Elimination of additional general fund positions.
“Please don’t panic,” Ingstad said after talking about the possible options. “Don’t think that these are going to be part of next year’s budget. But they could be considered.
“I’m very positive that we will be able to reach a balanced budget before the end of the required time. It’s going to require some sacrifice and struggles, but I think staying conservative right now is the way to go, because it has paid for us in the past five years, and I think this thing could turn around in the next few years.”
Ingstad’s news to the board wasn’t all doom and gloom.
Three of the county’s four economic indicators are ahead of last year at this time:
•Sales tax revenue as of April 12 was $865,289 compared to $850,530 in 2010.
•Transient occupancy tax (TOT) and hotel tax was $915,224 compared to $843,520 in 2010.
•Construction building permits were $422,513 compared to $286,968 in 2010.
Only secured property taxes ($4,027,045) are behind last year’s pace of $4,359,008.
“You see some positive economic indicators,” Ingstad said. “Hopefully this recession is starting to slow down and some recovery occurring.”
Ingstad appeared particularly pleased with the TOT revenue, which is a direct reflection of an improving tourism industry in Plumas County.
Supervisor Jon Kennedy provided a possible explanation.
“I have a theory,” Kennedy said. “No one can afford to go on the cool trips anymore, to Hawaii and to San Diego and Disneyworld and all that stuff. I honestly think an increase in TOT when the economy is horrible is an indicator that, regardless of the efforts otherwise, people are saying ‘hey let’s go camping this weekend’ instead. ‘Let’s go do something like a family.’”
One topic that drew several comments and questions from the board was Gov. Jerry Brown signing legislation that would move state inmates to county jails beginning July 1.
No funding source has been identified to make that happen.
“Can (the state) legally move (inmates) here until they have the funding?” Supervisor Lori Simpson said, directing her question to Sheriff Greg Hagwood, who was in the audience. “Can we say no?”
Hagwood responded, “I was part of a statewide conference call last week that the realignment is not going to be implemented until the state has identified a funding stream to do that. That is the latest word that I have.
“Next week I’m going to be meeting with all the other 57 sheriffs in the state where I know this will be the topic of lengthy discussion,” Hagwood added. “I’m looking forward to bringing some information back to the board after those meetings.”
Simpson, who chairs the board meetings, concluded the budget discussion with a message emphasizing the need for continued cooperation within the county.
“For the most part all of the department heads have been very cooperative and I thank them and they are trying to find savings where they can. And we appreciate that,” she said. “It’s a difficult time for everybody. It’s a difficult time to be a supervisor. But we need to keep a cool head and move forward and get through this time and all work together.”