Stanislaus County leaders found few reasons to smile Tuesday while approving a grim budget plan that could touch everyone, bludgeon a few and slap many.
"It's important to be clear to the community what we can do and what we will do," Patty Hill Thomas, assistant executive officer, told dour-faced supervisors while detailing many millions of dollars in reduced services.
Virtually no part of county government remains untouched in the $955 million budget, which serves as an interim spending plan until a final budget comes up for review in September.
Mental health, parks, jails, clinics, the animal shelter, building inspections -- all and more are taking hits. And all can expect more cuts before September and beyond, leaders said Tuesday.
"Essentially, we will have 800 offenders out there in the community being unsupervised," Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers told the board. He said 288 felons have received no monitoring since four probation officers quit or retired, and 575 more offenders could go unwatched under a state plan to eliminate funding for drug violations.
He was one of five department heads, among the county's 27, to speak during Tuesday's public hearing, which drew no comments from the public. Dates reserved for further hearings today and Thursday were canceled after supervisors unanimously adopted the proposed 2009-2010 budget, which is for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
"I've got two pages of comments, but I'm so depressed that I'm not sure I'll get through them," said Powers, who hasn't hired a probation officer in more than two years. He said he's "taking a gamble" this year by allocating $300,000 less than usual for Juvenile Hall, hoping that a trend toward fewer young offenders at the beginning of summer holds true.
303 jobs won't be filled
Tuesday's unanimous board vote eliminated 303 vacant county positions, bringing to 454 the number of jobs sacrificed since the recession began. Fourteen will be laid off by September, leaving the county with 4,005 workers.
"We're sorry. This is not an easy thing to do," Supervisor Bill O'Brien said to pink-slipped employees and their families. "But we have to live within our budget. We apologize. We know how this is going to impact your lives."
Christine Applegate, director of the county's Community Services Agency, has lost 95 workers at a time when more people are seeking help.
For example, food stamp requests went up 39 percent in the past year, and welfare applications increased 25 percent. Demand for Medi-Cal and job assistance went up 38 percent and 18 percent, respectively, Applegate said.
"We're now serving 26 percent of the population," she said, predicting more homelessness and fewer resources at food banks and other charities.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager is among eight department heads reducing costs by forcing workers to take furloughs, costing them 5 percent of their pay. Two other departments will take fewer furlough days.
Lost productivity translates to 568 idle days for Fladager's prosecutors in the coming fiscal year, she said, and 1,092 lost days for her entire staff. That's like losing seven workers, she said.
Meanwhile, Fladager said, state officials are considering saving prison money by making it tougher to get in. A current proposal would reduce auto theft and methamphetamine possession -- scourges of the valley -- from felonies to misdemeanors.
"Some cars could have a value of $50,000 or more," Supervisor Jim DeMartini said, referring to a grand-theft threshold applying to most items worth more than $400. "I can't believe (auto theft) could be considered a misdemeanor."
"I can't believe it either," Fladager said.
Sheriff Adam Christianson said he will close a 64-bed jail wing to save $800,000. Most of those inmates will join the 420 his office supervises in alternate programs, doing such tasks as washing patrol cars and removing graffiti.
"We're not simply kicking 64 people to the curb," Christianson said.
Community organizations accustomed to supervisors' generosity this year will receive less than half the historical amount and should count on zero in the future, County Chief Executive Rick Robinson said.
Eleven groups, ranging from the Stanislaus County Children's Council and Modesto Symphony Orchestra to the Patterson Apricot Festival and the Stanislaus Chinese Culture Society, will get 37 percent of what they requested. The total comes to $20,000, compared with last year's $47,500.
"I fully expect in the 2010-11 budget to recommend that they be eliminated altogether," Robinson said.
Getting by on $11M less
The interim spending plan approved Tuesday is $11 million less than what the county spent this fiscal year.
And Tuesday's bad news surely will be followed by worse news when state officials figure out how to close a $24 billion deficit, Robinson said. The state historically has passed its financial problems on to local governments.
In previous years of plenty, county leaders mused about someday climbing over the $1 billion budget mark, Hill Thomas said. That seems to be a forgotten dream as revenue in all categories shrivels, especially property taxes, expected to drop more than $11 million in the coming year.
The final 2009-10 budget is scheduled to go before the Board of Supervisors on
Sept. 15 in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
On the Net: www.stancounty.com/budget.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.