By Victoria Metcalf
Despite the ups and downs of dealing with COVID-19 regulations, Plumas County’s mid-year financial situation is stable.
In a 276-page report, County Administrator Gabriel Hydrick explained to supervisors Tuesday, Feb. 15, the state of the county’s financial picture.
“We’re looking good,” Hydrick told supervisors. “I was pretty nervous going into this year and not knowing what to expect.”
When Plumas supervisors adopted the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget Sept. 22, the county, along with the rest of the world was in the midst of figuring out the ramifications of COVID-19.
COVID-19 regulations and the costs and measures associated with it have been “a pain in the butt,” Hydrick told supervisors.
“The calendar year 2020 presented no shortage of challenges for the county,” Hydrick said in his report. “Including COVID-19, and the North Complex Fire to name the most significant challenges.”
“Nevertheless, the county team muscled through and leveraged opportunities with each challenged presented,” Hydrick explained.
The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) funding to Plumas County allowed facilities to adopt safer and healthier regulations for county staff and residents. And allowed for the support of “Public Health’s Herculean efforts to address COVID-19,” Hydrick said. It also offered opportunities for the county of Plumas to assist businesses.
While the North Complex Fire destroyed local timber, it did fill the Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds and Gansner Park with services for the men and women arriving to fight and provide support to fire fighting efforts.
Rental revenues in the amount of $345,000 for use of those two properties are coming in, Hydrick said. “The North Complex Fire rallied the county together and offered significant one-time funding due to the needed and expansive fire camps,” he explained.
While Plumas County might have missed out on the festival revenues anticipated for sale tax generation and rentals, the hundreds brought in to fight fires helped make up for the deficit, he said.
Added to this is the stronger real estate market throughout the county.
Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the mid-year budget.
Plumas County saw budgeted increases of the following categories: Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) 44 percent, retirement by 30 percent, and regular wages increased by 14.5 percent. In part this is due to the mass retirement of department heads in December 2020 and January of this year.
“The county saw small increases with tax rolls for the seventh straight year,” Hydrick reported. “Specifically the combined local and state rolls resulted in an overall increase of 3.83 percent.
At the mid-year point, the current general fund revenue is $10,136,762 compared to $10,105,741 during the 2019-20 fiscal year. “For the most part departments reported revenues coming in as expected and some are doing a little better than expected,” Hydrick explained.
This year, tax collection is down by 2 percent from last year at the same time. Hydrick said this is not significant or unexpected “given the large question mark the county is facing regarding COVID-19’s impact on the economy and county revenue streams,” he added.
Hydrick also pointed out that 14 COVID-19 penalty waivers are noted so far. This totals $3,928 waived for penalties, costs and interest. Most waivers are due to income loss or having COVID-19 illness. “This is not a significant amount and should not negatively affect the budget,” Hydrick explained.
Looking back to CARES funding for COVID-19, much of the funding was used to procure PPEs (personal protective equipment), planning to meet and mitigating COVID-19 impacts, and paying staff time for COVID-19 activities.
A broader report from Auditor Roberta Allen is expected in early March. This should include reconciliation and reporting for COVID-19 categories. Hydrick will then present that information to supervisors.
Also returning to the North Complex Fire funding, deferred maintenance on the fairgrounds required some of the $345,000 but that left a surplus of about $131,895, according to Hydrick and his county budget group’s estimates. “Though this is a nice surplus, there are looming fiscal challenges going into budget season next (fiscal) year to plan for,” Hydrick reminded supervisors.
During the fires, fuel sales at the airport saw enough of an increase to reimburse $20,000 to the county’s contingency fund. Landing fees received $72,404 during the fires.
In another area, Plumas County anticipates $230,000 from tax neutrality agreements. There are five projects in this area and the county has received $141,301 from the payment of three of those. This money will be invested in the county’s PARS pension liability fund to help mitigate what Hydrick sees as “a massive financial threat.”