What would Plumas County look like without a fair, a library or a museum? Would we still want to live here?
Thankfully, we won’t have to face that question – at least until next year.
The prospect of losing those events and services was very real until last week. All of them were under the county budget microscope as the Board of Supervisors tried to find the final $150,000 of savings to balance the fiscal 2012-13 budget.
Thanks to a last-minute discovery of about $150,000 in previously unaccounted-for revenue from the municipal courts, the budget was balanced.
It took a tremendous amount of work by the supervisors to cut nearly $4 million to balance the books. But, somehow, they did it. And they did it without an administrative officer or full-time auditor.
It has been a long and thankless process. Virtually every county department was affected. Tempers flared weekly as departments were slashed and more county workers saw their hours, paychecks and benefits reduced. Some lost their jobs.
Since the economic downturn began, more than 100 county workers have become unemployed. Plumas County’s infrastructure is almost a third smaller than it was in 2007.
The county is being forced to do more with less. We have fewer deputies, probation officers and prosecutors at the district attorney’s office than we used to. Senior citizens, who rely on the county for some of their meals, are getting fewer of them. County-funded tourism promotion and visitor services are essentially gone. The list of cutbacks is long.
Unless the economy improves, the worst is yet to come. This could realistically be the last year for the county fair. Times are that bad.
But maybe this is the bottom.
Other parts of the state are showing signs of a rebound. Sacramento and San Francisco, for example, are experiencing an economic resurgence. Home values in Sacramento are up 10 percent over this time last year. Unemployment is down.
If history repeats itself, it could take another year or two for rural counties like Plumas to see an economic rebound. Until we see one, more cutbacks will come.
There has probably never been a tougher time to be a Plumas County supervisor. Their decisions, particularly cutting back spending on public safety, are unpopular with many of us. They hear the complaints from constituents daily. They are blasted by citizens during the public-comment period of the regular Tuesday meetings.
But the bottom line is the board somehow found a way to balance the budget. And the supervisors did it without using a penny of the county’s dwindling reserves. For that, they deserve some credit.
“I think we might have almost hit bottom,” Board Chairman Robert Meacher said last week. He said he hoped the county could soon begin adding back jobs and services that have been cut.
We can only hope.