Add crumbling roads and a costly pile of garbage to an undermanned Sheriff’s Department amidst a burglary wave on the list of major problems created by five years of declining Calaveras County budgets.
A day after hearing Sheriff’s Department brass rankled by continuing cuts, county supervisors got a report from Public Works Director Tom Garcia about the effects of a diminishing budget on his department during Thursday’s preliminary budget hearings.
County roads are degrading faster than the state average, with most considered “at-risk,” sliding toward “poor” on a pavement quality index.
The county faces a fatality rate much higher than the state average and increasing traffic, Garcia said, while state and federal grants designed to increase safety are now going to balance the budget.
Supervisor Merita Callaway questioned whether the roads or drivers are more to blame
“It’s not due always to our roads ... unless you want to say all our roads should be straight and (Interstate) 5-type roads,” Callaway said.
“We have three fatalities since the (beginning) of the year but I don’t think we have three homicides,” Supervisor Tom Tryon added. “Roads are a public safety issue, too ... it’s not just the Sheriff’s Department.”
Garcia said that drunken drivers aside, no matter an accident’s cause, “if you go off the road, your chances of not surviving the accident in this county are huge. Our roads are very unforgiving. Seventy-five percent of our accidents are off-road accidents. (We are) trying to keep people on the road.”
Elimination of four vacant positions in Public Works will mean reduced traffic surveys for improved signage and delayed response to service requests, Garcia said.
Vegetation control, snow plowing, patching, crack sealing, grading, ditching, culvert clearing and shoulder improvements will be impacted, he said.
“This is really a bare-bones budget” in which emergencies will get highest priority, Garcia said.
Callaway said she understands the difficulties the department faces but that it will get better reaction from residents if up front about delays.
“People just need to be told,” she said. “Otherwise, there’s expectations and there’s anger.”
Tryon was most concerned by the hit on vegetation control.
“Frankly, if we don’t take care of the area between the fence and the road, that’s prime for a fire,” he said.
On solid waste, the county faces a $5.3 million shortfall toward the planned opening of a new cell at its Rock Creek landfill due to shifting funds to balance annual budgets. Without sufficient funding, the county may have to close landfill and truck waste out of the area as soon as 2018, Garcia said.
Later in the hearing, supervisors seemed to agree $726,848 sitting dormant in an emergency fund for the old Red Hill dump site ought to go toward the Rock Creek shortfall.
Thursday’s hearing concluded with public comment as the board will begin its own deliberations on the overall budget today, with the expectation that it will approve a preliminary budget at its June 26 meeting.
Double Springs resident and in-home care worker Bonnie Newman suggested $300,000 could be saved by eliminating the In-Home Support Services Public Authority.
“Services are important,” Newman said. “Administration is unnecessary.”
Assessor Leslie Davis defended herself against some supervisors’ accusation that she has chosen to neglect collection of unsecured property taxes for items like boats.
Forty percent of her office staff has been eliminated in recent years compared to 20 percent countywide, Davis said.
“That is not a refusal to do my job. I simply explained things will not get done if my department is not funded,” she said. “I made a business decision based on your budget decision. My staffing level is such that some things will simply not get done. It is that simple.”
“Another department (CalWorks) has also lost 40 percent and looked at it as an opportunity and a challenge,” Callaway shot back. “It’s really just a matter of philosophy.”
Copperopolis resident Al Segalla and District 2 supervisorial candidate Bryce Randall urged the board to prioritize reduced Sheriff’s Department response times and Deputy Sheriffs’ Association President Tracy Busby called on the board to look hard at finding a lower-cost health insurance provider.
Callaway said she went home Wednesday night and looked deeper into per-resident Sheriff’s Department spending figures that she said she found “shocking,” showing more than 50 percent higher spending in neighboring Tuolumne and Amador counties.
Both received cash from Indian casinos within their boundaries, she noted, including $813,000 from Jackson Rancheria to Amador, a luxury that Calaveras lacks.
“Percentage of general fund contribution would be the apples-to-apples (comparison),” Supervisor Steve Wilensky said.
Supervisor Darren Spellman closed Thursday’s session with a reminder of the mantra he proclaimed during his first round of budget hearings a year ago.
“The answer to all these questions at the end of the day is to generate more revenue ... and we need to be seeking means of economic activity to generate revenue,” Spellman said.