County projects $5.8 million surplus in fiscal year starting in July

dsneed@thetribunenews.comMay 10, 2014 

County supervisors Tuesday will get their first look at the county’s proposed $525 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The budget is a 4 percent increase over the current one. A projected $5.8 million surplus is expected to carry over from this year’s budget into next year’s as the county emerges from the recession, said Guy Savage, assistant county administrative officer.

“Numerous signs, including increases in home prices, building permits, sales tax, property tax revenues and transient occupancy taxes are reflective of an improving economy,” Savage wrote in a staff report.

The proposed annual budget marks the last year in the county’s deficit reduction plan that is commonly referred to as the Seven Year Pain Plan. The plan is a series of long- and short-term spending reductions that were designed to get the county through the recent recession.

The $5.8 million surplus will allow the county to begin restoring some of the services that were cut during the economic downturn. For example, road funding, building replacement reserves and contingency reserves will see increases.

Although the overall budget picture is optimistic, several challenges will have to be dealt with in the coming year. These are the extreme drought, as well as new hiring to deal with increased workloads caused by implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The county estimates that 200 farming jobs were lost in 2013 because of the drought; many sectors of the farming economy are shrinking because of shortages of water to irrigate crops and livestock.

“Given the interconnected nature of the agricultural, tourism and retail components of the economy, the drought could have more far-reaching consequences for the local economy if drought persists,” Savage said.

During the next fiscal year, the county expects to hire 27 new full-time employees to implement the Affordable Care Act, mostly in the Health Agency and Department of Social Services.

The funding for the various programs required by the act varies, but almost all of the money for those positions will come from a variety of state and federal sources. The Affordable Care Act requires most people to be covered by health insurance whether it is through employers, expanded Medi-Cal coverage or exchanges such as Covered California set up by the state.

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