Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

It looks like 2012-13 will be another tough budget year for Tuolumne County.

During a lengthy presentation and discussion at Tuesday's meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, County Administrator Craig Pedro, supervisors and department heads pondered how to shore up what appears to be a $1.9 million budget deficit in the General Fund for the coming fiscal year.

During his presentation on the initial budget estimates, Pedro detailed a series of proposed cuts to public safety, planning, building and legal departments to make up the difference.

Pedro's projected deficit is largely different from an approximately $468,000 General Fund balance predicted in April in a multi-year budget projection conducted by the administrator. And with most of the cuts coming from county personnel, department heads lined up during the meeting to send a clear message to the board: Further cuts to the county departments will result in noticeable decreases to services.

"There are going to be crimes that I'm going to say we will not investigate," said Sheriff James Mele, whose department is facing some of the biggest proposed cuts.

"I'm being handcuffed continually in my ability to protect the streets," Mele said.

In his presentation, Pedro suggested eliminating $752,000 in county funding to the Tuolumne Narcotics Team, which would eliminate most of the team's $1 million budget. Pedro also proposed an alternative suggestion to meet that amount that would include eliminating five unfilled deputy positions and cutting $252,000 in money for vehicles.

Other proposed cuts included $146,000 from the District Attorney's Office with $50,000 from the Victim Witness program and $96,000 from the vertical witness program.

Pedro also proposed eliminating a deputy county counsel position, building inspector, housing program coordinator, assessment technician, housekeeper, animal control officer, shelter attendant, legal office manager with the probation office and a site coordinator with probation.

Community Resources Agency Director Bev Shane said her department's counter services would be affected, as would be the next-day inspection service for contractors, if the inspector position is lost.

"You're just spreading the office thinner and thinner," Shane said.

Pedro told the board that, while these are his initial proposed cuts, supervisors should also consider suggestions from the department heads as they work to compile a preliminary budget.

The outlook is darker from only two months ago, when Pedro's multi-year budget report predicted the $468,000 surplus for the county's biggest government fund. Pedro said the difference was because "the spreadsheet used to forecast" salaries, pension and FICA expenses undershot those costs by $1.4 million. He said the county also received $600,000 less in overhead revenues than anticipated.

"The areas I have tried to cut, we've already cut significantly," Pedro said.

District Attorney Michael Knowles was among the county employees who asked the board to reconsider the cuts, and he gave a lengthy appeal to the supervisors for keeping the victim witness program whole. He said the cut targets the "most vulnerable group" in the criminal justice system.

Knowles also pointed out the difference in Tuesday's outlook and the one from two months ago.

"That's a big fall," he said. "I don't know how that fall occurred, and to be honest with you in the here and now, it doesn't matter."

Pedro said a number of factors went into his recommendations, including the policy of not using one-time dollars for long-term operations and maintaining a $1 million contingency. Other places he recommended the county find money included reducing liability insurance and workers compensation spending.

Members of the board did not give much specific direction to Pedro in terms of revisions, though they did ask county staff to postpone any layoffs until the final budget is completed in August. A majority of the board told Pedro to support public safety related positions, and multiple supervisors also said the county needs to wait until the final budget is due in August to make some more of the structural changes.

"It's hard for me to give direction when I don't feel I have a full plate here," Supervisor Randy Hanvelt said.

The board will likely hold another budget session on June 19 to discuss and consider further changes. Pedro said he will then come back with multiple options to deal with the projected deficit before the final budget hearing in August.