SLO County budget to tap $4.3 million in reserves

Some departments gain, others lose in spending proposal

bmorem@thetribunenews.comMay 14, 2013 

San Luis Obispo County departments that deal with parks, foster care and roads will see cuts in their budgets if the Board of Supervisors approve a proposed $494.8 million budget for the coming fiscal year. 

On the other side of the ledger, departments dealing with the courts, Veterans Services and the county library system will see boosts to theirs. 

Regardless, an analysis prepared through the county’s Administrative Office says services and staffing should remain at current levels because of the relatively small changes planned.

In order to balance its budget, the county is using $4.3 million in unrestricted reserves and benefiting from an increase in property tax income from a rebounding local economy and housing market. 

“The budget … is an effort to allocate scarce resources in an effective and efficient manner in order to achieve the county’s vision of a safe, healthy, livable, prosperous and well-governed community,” Assistant County Administrative Officer Greg Schulte told the Board of Supervisors in an 18-page report Tuesday.

Despite the spending of reserves, the county is projected to have enough income to add back $1 million to reserves, bringing the total to $9 million. The last time reserves were increased was 2002-2003, when the fund was increased to $8 million from $7.6 million. 

Schulte told supervisors that a $4 million increase over this year’s budget was due in large part to the state’s Public Safety Realignment, a program where oversight of some prisoners and parolees was transferred from the state prison system to become the county’s responsibility.

The program led the county to add 28 positions midyear at a cost of $4 million a year.

“The transfer of responsibility,” Schulte said, “continues to have a significant impact upon the operations of the Sheriff-Coroner, Probation, Health Agency, Public Defender and District Attorney departments.”

The good news, he added, is that the county’s seven-year budget plan (“commonly referred to as the Seven-Year Pain Plan”) is working as anticipated. The county is in its sixth year of the plan.

The county had a budget gap in 2008-2009 of $18 million; the following year it was $30 million. The gap this year is down to $2 million, and it’s projected to be slightly higher — $2.2 million — next year.

There are multiple reasons why the county’s fiscal health has improved over the past few years. Among them: vacant positions going unfilled; revamped pension plans for new employees that reduce retirement benefits and stipulate that employees hired after Jan. 1, 2013, will pay more of their share for benefits; and the county’s improving economy.

Such factors have earned the county an AA+ bond rating, the second highest of such measures.

“The good news,” Schulte said, “is that key economic indicators are showing signs of improvement. The indicators include property, sales and transient occupancy taxes as well as building permits and planning revenue.

“In fact,” he added, the slight increase in projected property tax revenue of 2 percent indicates a brighter outlook for the recovery of the local real estate market.”

Supervisors on Tuesday approved setting public hearings on the proposal. The first hearing on the 2013-2014 budget is slated for 9 a.m. June 10 in the Board of Supervisors’ chambers.

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