County has some good news amid the economic gloom

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

Plumas County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad gave some good news to the Board of Supervisors while delivering his annual mid-year budget report on the General Fund at a meeting Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Ingstad told the supervisors that sales tax receipts only fell by $2,000 compared to the numbers at the same time last year, while transient occupancy tax (TOT) revenues actually rose by $56,000.

Ingstad attributed the good news that the sales tax had stayed relatively flatdue to the efforts of Supervisor Sherrie Thrall, who was chairwoman for the last two year.

He said Thrall was influential in the recent “buy locally” campaign and he also praised the leadership at Feather Publishing for strongly supporting that message.

In terms of the growth in TOT receipts, Ingstad praised Plumas Arts, Plumas Corporation, the Plumas County Visitors Bureau, local chambers and Graeagle Plumas Alliance for their efforts to boost tourism.

“I think the good news is we really are in control of our community to a certain extent. You can make a difference here.”

Later in the meeting, Ingstad stressed that these local successes in tourism and sales were truly unique.

“This is not happening all over California and I give a lot of credit to the community (and) community leaders.”

He also said the vehicle license fee wasn’t down significantly.

In these times, of course, all the news can’t be good. Property taxes fell $331,000, although Ingstad said that was about the amount for which the county had budgeted.

County Assessor Chuck Leonhardt said it looked like the previous budget year was the worst ever in terms of a drop in property taxes. He hoped that indicated the worst is behind Plumas in that category, but this year still featured a similarly massive drop.

Ingstad also indicated the cost plan was down, which he said probably made some of the state-funded departments happy.

The cost plan is the mechanism by which the county bills state-funded departments, like those providing health and human services, for work done by General Fund departments.

Basically, if the social services department uses the county counsel’s office to look at some contracts or has county technical support work on a computer, the General Fund bills that department.

Ingstad said county counsel wasn’t keeping track of its hours doing that type of work.

Current county counsel Craig Settlemire interjected that the issue was with the previous occupant of his office and Ingstad confirmed that was the case.

Ingstad continued by saying spending was down about $305,000 this year and around $1.5 million over the last two budgets.

“I think that shows the quality of our department heads and their ability to control cost and do more with less,” he commented.

Ingstad said General Fund revenues were down, as anticipated, and reserves were around 10 percent of the total budget size.

He said reserves went up before the downturn and were now right around the level they were at when he arrived in Plumas.

Ingstad said he wanted another month to analyze what the state was likely to do with its budget before considering any actions at the county level, but asked the board for direction on filling vacant positions in the meantime.

Thrall responded from the budget committee’s point of view: “Looking at the proposals that the governor has made and knowing that some of them won’t go but some of them will … it would be wise to be very cautious at this point.”

Ingstad agreed, “One of the additional concerns we have is our cash flow on hand is way down.

“We’re down $926,000 in cash from last year at this same time and that’s the money, fund balance … we use to start next year’s budget in the General Fund.

“I think I understand why it’s down but the auditor is very concerned and she’s letting me know that we have a cash problem.”

Essentially this relates to Ingstad’s earlier comment that fund balance has been dropping over time.

Fund balance is the amount of money that the county has left over at the end of each budget year.

The General Fund isn’t in the negative overall; its cushion is just shrinking over time.

Ingstad recommended the board allow him to filter requests to fill positions from General Fund departments for the next month and decide which should proceed to the critical staffing committee.

He said grant-funded, public works, and health and human services positions would go through for the moment, but he wanted to keep a close eye on the General Fund while waiting for the state to act.

In a phone interview Ingstad said that, compared to prior years, “I feel a lot better, understanding what I think the future is going to be.”

Ingstad reported he could see a path out of the downturn for Plumas as long as nothing goes very wrong on the state or national scale to cause a double-dip recession.

He also said the county did a good enough job with its budget this year that a mid-year adjustment wouldn’t be needed unless a state budget change harmed the county further.

Ingstad was also optimistic about the possibility of selling county properties to the state for the new courthouse.

He said the county owned too much office space and land and would benefit from the extra cash.

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