Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

The budget prospects for Calaveras County government look better than they did a year ago.

County administrators call that a reason for "cautious optimism" just as they did last year.

Interim County Administrative Officer John Blacklock said there are signs the county's finances are "stabilizing."

"Rather than rosy, maybe I'd say it's beginning to look pastel," Blacklock said. "No one can tell us what the new normal is, but it's not going to be like it was five years ago, or at least it won't be for quite some time."

In the past five years, the county lost $5 million in property tax and vehicle license fee revenues, said Chief Assistant County Administrative Officer Clay Hawkins.

"The recession continues," Hawkins said. "We're not out of it, and revenues continue to decline even though the feds said we were out of it in February 2009."

On the bright side, general fund departments will enter a second consecutive budget year without a need to prepare for layoffs. Blacklock recommended preliminary budgets due April 1 commit to preservation of current staff levels.

Hawkins gave a presentation on midyear finances showing $2 million in reduced costs compared with this point last year. Revenues, as he said, are down, by $996,676 from initial projections. However, that has been more than offset by $1.5 million in spending below projected levels.

A $692,904 chunk of that is directly attributable to delays in filling open positions, Hawkins said.

With half the budget year complete, Hawkins' figures showed the county receiving 56 percent of projected sales and construction revenues for the year.

Applications for building permits, he said, are up 16 percent, but the value of building done in the county this year is down by about 25 percent. Few people are building new homes, Hawkins said, but more are doing considerable additions or repairs such as new roofs.

The county is scheduled to conduct preliminary budget negotiations June 11 through 14.