The Merced County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a proposed budget Tuesday for fiscal year 2012-13 -- a tentative spending plan that could tighten up depending on what the state does with its budget.
The document's proposals would slash the county's estimated $10 million deficit to a projected $3.8 million. The county's total budget is set at $426.9 million, down $9.5 million from last year.
The proposed budget doesn't call for any layoffs, said County Executive Officer Jim Brown. The county's 2012-13 final budget hearings are set for Aug. 21.
It's anticipated that some layoffs could come when county administrators get a better idea of the final financial picture they're facing.
"At this point, the proposed budget is a work in progress," Brown said. "It's a temporary operating plan until final budget. We are still working with departments at this point in time on the plans they have submitted."
But the state's budget has been described as a "moving target" and could create more burdens on local governments.
To deal with the shortfalls the executive office has been able to identify, all departments were asked to devise 12.5 percent reduction plans this year, with the exception of public safety departments. They were asked to make 7.5 percent cuts.
While the proposed budget approved during Tuesday's board meeting included the reduction plans for various departments, those proposals are being worked out, Brown said.
A few members of the public aired concerns about the budget situation during the meeting, focusing on library funding and each supervisor's allocation of discretionary funds.
Every year, supervisors get a $40,000 allotment of taxpayer money to spend on community projects in their districts, as long as the majority of the board approves the expenditure.
The funds had once totalled $100,000 a year for every supervisor, but were reduced in 2009 and cut back again in 2010.
The funds go into separate accounts, and unused balances can be rolled over.
Opponents of the allotments call them re-election slush funds, while proponents stress that they're essential funds to be used for communities in underserved or unincorporated areas.
District 2 resident MaryAnn McKissick spoke before the board Tuesday and criticized the county's use of the discretionary funds.
While the funds may have been useful during more fruitful times, McKissick said the county needs to curtail their use now that money is tight.
"My husband and I and several others here would like to see that money go into public safety accounts," she said. "The Sheriff's Department is stretched thin as it is ... we need every dime to go to support public safety."
Board of Supervisors Chairman Hub Walsh, who oversees District 2, said the discretionary funds are among the topics that will be hashed out as the final budget is formulated.
"The discussions about special districts and libraries and other critical services are really going to be much a part of the discussion at final budget (hearing) in terms of operations -- where we go, what we do," he noted.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.