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County could face budget slashes

By ABBY SOUZA

Employee layoffs, program funds slashed, two library branches gone — all are cuts proposed in Tuolumne County's 2003-04 preliminary county budget.

The preliminary budget, prepared by the county administrator's office and up for approval by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, calls for funding cuts in most county departments.

The budget reflects the ongoing change that continues to transfer legislative authority from local governments to Sacramento, said County Administrator C. Brent Wallace in a memo to the board. The state's actions, its $38 billion deficit and its lack of a balanced budget, he said, have cut the flow of money to counties for operational costs.

Vehicle license fees are among those state actions that will hurt county coffers, Wallace said. Four years ago, state officials reduced the fees vehicle owners pay to license their cars — money that goes to counties. Lost income was replaced by the state. In Tuolumne County, that meant more than $4 million for the general fund.

But when the fees were reduced, state officials included a provision in their legislation saying that if the state went into debt and could no longer reimburse counties, it would re-raise the vehicle license fees.

And that is what the state plans to do July 1.

The flow of revenue to the county, Wallace said, will be cut by 25 percent.

State officials expect to enact the higher fees within 90 days after the new fiscal year begins July 1. That means the county must wait as much as three months for its money. The result, Wallace said, will be a $672,000 loss in earnings from those fees.

"It continues to be a moving target in Sacramento," Wallace said. "Vehicle license fees affect everybody in the general fund."

All county departments relying on general fund money were asked to submit budgets to Wallace's office that were 6.5 percent below their 2002-2003 spending plans.


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