Rundown parks might be the first thing people notice if Stanislaus County leaders follow the advice of their money experts.
Faced with losing $18 million from their general fund, county supervisors today are expected to weigh recommendations such as:
Closing bathrooms and removing portable toilets at community parks in unincorporated areas
Ignoring shrubs, and mowing every other week, at most
Reducing litter and leaf pickup, tree care and graffiti cleanup
Watering lawns for no more than 15 minutes, three times a week
The Basso and Turlock Lake fishing accesses and La Grange Regional Park would suffer similar maintenance fates.
Off-roaders who have waited for the summer school break to camp with their children might want to get in as much as possible before the county's fiscal year begins July 1. Frank Raines Regional Park would be open only on weekends after that, if supervisors agree. Its Deer Creek Camp Recreation Hall would be boarded up and no longer available to rent.
County officials would plan few or no maintenance projects at the Kiwanis Youth Camp, and would all but ignore the Roberts Ferry, French Bar and La Grange cemeteries, repairing vandalism only when "essential to health or safety."
Even the county's most visible public spaces would suffer from reduced maintenance, including Tenth Street Place and the courthouse lawn in downtown Modesto, the old Scenic hospital, the Denair Amtrak station, the former Modesto City Hall behind the Gallo Arts Center and grounds around the coroner's office on Oakdale Road, north of Scenic Drive.
Fewer boat patrols
Modesto and Woodward reservoirs, popular for their camping and water sports, actually make money for the county and would be kept up. But monitoring by sheriff's deputies, including boat patrols, would go down 12 percent.
After-school and summer programs run by the county's Police Activities League could disappear from Parklawn and Salida parks.
Four parks maintenance workers would be laid off, the latest among 454 county jobs lost to the recession in the past 18 months. Monica Nino, county assistant executive officer, said Monday that county officials anticipate being forced to lay off 300 more workers in the coming year.
The dismal outlook for parks is just an example of service slashing among the county's 27 departments. Leaders are studying an array of potential cuts, including reducing library hours, closing some offices a few days a year and closing a 64-bed jail wing.
Administrators hope to close a $34 million budget gap by tapping reserves for $8 million a year over the next three years. Yet they expect the chasm between revenue and expenses to widen again in the coming year, to $29 million, because costs keep going up and taxes continue slowing to a trickle.
For example, retirement costs are expected to double this time next year, and health insurance will go up at least 12 percent, Nino said.
State compounds problem
Bleak times will force county government to reinvent itself, leaders say.
"We know we have to restructure and reduce service levels because we know 2010-11 is going to be worse," Nino said.
County leaders continue to brace for more bad news from state officials, who are struggling with their own $24 billion budget deficit. Whatever the state does surely will affect counties, local leaders say; eliminating CalWorks would suck $5.9 million from 11,100 families in Stanislaus County, and shutting down Healthy Families would leave 206 families here without low-cost health insurance.
Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson, who was paid $268,483 in 2008, will take a 5 percent reduction in salary. So will Sheriff Adam Christianson, District Attorney Birgit Fladager, Clerk- Recorder Lee Lundrigan and Assessor Doug Harms, according to a staff report.
Those elected to approve the proposed budget -- the five-member Board of Supervisors -- will consider lopping 5 percent from their annual base salaries of $72,600. Then they will weigh whether to forgo a pair of 3.75 percent raises due to kick in July 1 and Jan. 1; the average pay for supervisors in eight comparable California counties is $106,000, according to a report.
Today's budget hearing begins at 9 a.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St. in Modesto.
On the Net: www.stancounty.com/budget.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.