Merced County planning reductions in all departments

Budget deficit expected to be $10 million

05/21/2012 6:52 PM

05/22/2012 1:59 AM

Though there's a lot of blank canvas left, Merced County leaders aren't painting a rosy picture of this year's budget.

With an estimated deficit of $10 million, the county executive office is working toward a reduction of 12.5 percent in all departments, except public safety. It is expected to take a 7.5 percent cut.

Most of the budget shortfall will be addressed this year to help reverse the ongoing structural deficit, said County Executive Officer Jim Brown.

"We will need everybody to participate. We will need everybody to play," he said during a third-quarter budget presentation two weeks ago. "There is no more low-hanging fruit."

During that same meeting, District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey agreed with Brown's assessment, and predicted the county will be in the same financial situation for the next few years.

"I think we need to look at the long-range forecast for our county's budget," she said.

Scott De Moss, assistant CEO, said Monday that the executive office is working with departments to put together proposals to reduce general fund costs.

The reductions could include layoffs and cuts to service, depending on what the department heads come back with.

In an effort to lessen the blow, De Moss said some employees, as well as management, have taken 5 percent pay cuts. Some public safety employee groups have taken 2.5 percent reductions each, while others are in negotiations with the county.

Despite cuts the Board of Supervisors has made in previous budgets, the county is spending more than it's taking in, leaving a structural deficit.

But soon, the county might see a slight increase in property taxes, which would be a welcome boost to the general fund. "In conversations with different people in the community, it sounds like we might be headed in a good direction," De Moss said.

Out of an $86 million county budget this year, most of the money is focused on public safety and the justice system -- at a cost of $45 million.

Undersheriff Tom Cavallero said the Sheriff's Department has been working closely with the executive office to make sense of its hazy budget situation. Though the circumstances are still developing, he doesn't expect it to be an easy year.

"We don't really know what it means for us yet," he noted. "It's getting to a point now where we're all very curious what the actual ramifications will be."

A lot hinges on decisions coming from Gov. Jerry Brown's office.

There is uncertainty about what the state is doing. Recently, the state's budget deficit jumped to $16 billion from $9 billion.

If the governor's tax initiative fails to pass, Mercedians could see harsh cuts to the education system.

The county's proposed budget is set to be released in late June. The final budget will come out in August.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

County budget picture from the past three years

FISCAL YEAR 2009-10    FISCAL YEAR 2010-11    FISCAL YEAR 2011-12
Total budget    $454.1 million    $464.4 million    $436.3 million Other funds    $108.3 million    $99 million    $93.8 million General fund    $345.8 million    $365.4 million    $342.5 million Dept./dedicated revenue    $237.3 million    $266.3 million    $256.2 million Net county cost    $108.5 million    $99 million    $86.3 million Local revenue    $64.2 million    $63.1 million    $62.4 million Fund balance available    $44.3 million    $35.9 million    $23.9 million

Source: Merced County

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