County budget looks better

Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

It appears the final budget for Calaveras County that will take the local government up through June 2013 will be somewhat more robust than was expected, allowing for the potential increase of staffing in some depleted departments.

The budget is $136.8 million across all funds, an increase of $12 million compared to the preliminary budget adopted in late June.

The increased funding means county administration is recommending to the Board of Supervisors that it fund a number of departmental requests that went unfulfilled in June. Those include one of five sheriff's deputy slots Sheriff Gary Kuntz sought to replenish in earlier years' cuts, an appraiser to help Assessor Leslie Davis process unsecured property tax rolls that were not addressed the past two years due to low staffing, and several vehicles for both of those departments.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to finalize this year's budget with a vote later this month.

The additional money is mostly a result of judicious budgeting the prior year, leaving the county a cash carry as of June 30 much higher than anticipated. The general fund alone features a $5.1 million cash carry, more than $3.4 million higher than projected in June.

The highest savings to the general fund came as $1.8 million less than anticipated in various insurance costs as well as $469,000 in unexpected revenues from sales and other tax sources.

The sales tax bump indicates "some economic improvement," according to County Administrative Officer Jeanne Boyce.

Chief Assistant Administrative Officer Clay Hawkins said there is reason for continued cautious optimism. The county has been reporting such relatively cheerful financial news regularly since a mid-fiscal year update in late 2011. The cautionary tone comes from continued declines in property values, with property taxes a much larger source of revenue than sales taxes, and uncertainty about the state budget and economy as a whole.

For example, Hawkins pointed out that if Proposition 30 fails in November, trigger cuts will include the elimination of all funding for the Sheriff's Department Marine Safety Unit, which would then require a $118,000 draw from the general fund to keep going.

"The board has made tough fiscal decisions over the past five years to keep the county solvent," Boyce said. "While this has often been unpopular and gut-wrenching, there is a need to stay the course and maintain a financially conservative budget discipline.

Supervisors were scheduled to begin hearing departmental requests beginning at 9 a.m. today in a hearing at the Calaveras Works and Human Services Agency in San Andreas.

The hearings will continue at the same time Thursday if necessary.

The Union Democrat
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