In discussions that were sometimes heated, the Plumas County Board of Supervisors began reviewing the budget of every county department last week, line-by-line.
The goal was to somehow close a nearly $1.9 million-gap in the county’s fiscal 2012 – 13 budget.
The first two of seven scheduled budget workshops resulted in $165,000 being cut from the general fund budget. But it still left a deficit of more than $1.7 million.
Acting budget officer Susan Scarlett told the board, during its Friday, Aug. 17, workshop, that cutting 10 percent from each county department wasn’t realistic. She said some departments simply couldn’t cut that much. But she said some departments might be able to cut more than 10 percent.
Scarlett said another round of cuts would likely be needed after the workshops were completed Wednesday, Aug. 29.
“I think that all department heads should plan on coming back around for another visit with you to answer specific questions,” Scarlett told the supervisors.
Based on Friday’s workshop, the specific questions could anger many county workers. Most of the budget savings are likely to come at the employees’ expense.
Wages, benefits, job duties and even jobs could be eliminated or reduced.
“Personnel is the bulk of the expenditures,” Scarlett said. “Payroll is always a huge part.”
County safety officer Pat Bonnett appeared to taunt Supervisor Jon Kennedy after Kennedy suggested Bonnett’s duties no longer constituted a full-time job.
“Who’s going to take care of your safety program, Mr. Kennedy? ... You?” Bonnett said.
“You want to go there?” Kennedy responded.
“Bring it on,” Bonnett shouted back. “You want to call a recess?”
“Alright you guys. Let’s be civil,” Supervisor Lori Simpson said.
Kennedy, who said prior to the workshops that he was “looking forward to taking another swing” at the budget, offered his ideas and opinions on many of the line items discussed.
“When Susan (Scarlett) talks about surgically looking at each department to see what we have to do in each department, it’s not about percentages,” Kennedy summarized. “It’s what you (department heads) can do in your department. If you can’t come up with that 10 percent magic number that someone made up, so be it. But be prepared to justify why you can’t. Because I know I’m going to be asking the questions.
“The objective is to try to streamline your department as best as you can, and as honestly as you can.”
The budgets of 13 county departments were put under the microscope during the first two workshops.
One of the supervisors’ most notable cuts was to the County Administrative Office. The board decided to not fill the CAO position this year. The decision saved the county more than $70,000 in salary and benefits.
The supervisors said they would consider hiring a CAO next year. But only if they could find the right person for the job.
“That is such a critical position in the county,” Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said. “I don’t want us to settle for just any old CAO because they are willing to take the money and come here.”
In addition to immediate cuts, Scarlett stressed the need for the county to institute a two-tiered retirement plan for new employees.
She said the county also needed to “shop around” for a cheaper health insurance plan.
Supervisor Simpson said messing with employee benefits was a sensitive issue. She said changing plans wouldn’t generate immediate savings.
“I don’t think you could do either of those instantaneously. There are labor issues involved,” Simpson said.
“I’m going to speak from personal experience as a labor negotiator: One of the most important issues to the employees is their health insurance,” Simpson said. “And employees are not going to give up (insurance) they like unless (the new insurance) provides good coverage. There are people who have existing conditions. It’s a very important issue to them.”
The budget workshops are open to the public. The third workshop was Tuesday, Aug. 21. The final four are set for Friday, Aug. 24, Monday, Aug. 27, Tuesday, Aug. 28 and Wednesday, Aug. 29.
Ingstad offered Minnesota job
Former Plumas County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad has been offered a similar job in Becker County, Minn.
According to a report last week, Becker County commissioners decided to offer Ingstad the position. He has reportedly accepted the post in principle.
Ingstad, who was fired by Plumas County last fall, was expected to meet with a Becker County committee this week to discuss a salary and benefits package.
The salary range for the position is reportedly between $77,000 and $107,000.
New website launched
The supervisors gave the go-ahead to launch the county’s new tourism and marketing website during their regular Tuesday, Aug. 14 meeting.
The site, exploreplumascounty.com, went live Wednesday, Aug. 15.
Michael Clawson, owner of Graeagle-based Big Fish Creations that designed the website, gave the board a presentation during Tuesday’s meeting.
Clawson said Big Fish Creations, which won a $7,500 county contract to build the website, would host the site and provide support for a year.
Supervisor Kennedy said he would administer the website’s content until the county names a permanent webmaster.
The supervisors were scheduled to address administration of the new website during their Tuesday, Aug. 21, meeting.
The county eliminated funding for its former website, plumascounty.org, in January when it cut all funding to the county’s visitors’ bureau.
The supervisors said the fact the county didn’t own that website’s content was a factor in their decision to stop funding it.
Plumas Corporation, which operated the visitors’ bureau, also owned the plumascounty.org site. Plumas Corporation turned over the website and its content to a coalition of county merchants, called the Plumas County Tourism and Hospitality Council.
The council has been managing the site with the help of donations from businesses and individuals in the community.
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