Tuolumne County leaders OK budget

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a final budget for the county that has changed considerably since the fiscal plan was initially proposed.

The approximately $144.7 million budget represents more than $9.6 million more in spending than the proposed budget that was rolled out in June, with most of the increase attributed to new costs associated with the Rim Fire, public works projects rolled over from last year and some unexpected increases in state and federal funding.

And even as the supervisors adopt a final budget, they expressed concerns that revenues and expenses will likely still change this year as fallout from the catastrophic fire continues.

"It is very appropriate for us to believe that we will have ... unanticipated expenses and unanticipated revenue loss resulting from the fire, and we need to factor that in," Supervisor Sherri Brennan said.

It is still unknown to what extent state and federal programs will help with fire-related damage, including long-term flooding or infrastructure damage in and around the burn area. And the fire's impact on local businesses, as well as the impact of the ongoing closure of Yosemite National Park and other federal lands, will likely show itself as the year goes on with lower-than-usual revenues from sales tax and lodging tax.

So far, all but about $28,000 of the around $1.45 million in fire recovery costs have been covered by federal grants or donations. And the budget projections show about $275,000 less in estimated income from the tourism-driven occupancy tax on hotel rooms, campgrounds and other lodging.

"As I sit here today, we really won't know until we go through another quarter at least" about the tax revenue impacts from the fire, County Administrator Craig Pedro said.

The county is also still in contract talks with multiple bargaining units, and the contract agreements could also affect the bottom line as the year goes on.

The board every year approves a recommended budget typically in June, but holds off on its final budget approval usually until September so it can reflect state and federal spending. This year's final budget is about six weeks later than normal because of the catastrophic Rim Fire. The fire accounts for a large portion of the increase in expected spending.

Along with the $1.45 million in Rim Fire costs reflected in the budget, the majority of the increase over the June plan is due to $1.6 million more in revenues from a mixture of departmental savings and higher-than-expected state and federal funds and $4.2 million in increased road construction costs because of delays in major projects initially scheduled for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

With that approximately $1.6 million in what Pedro described as "one-time funds," supervisors decided on the following uses: $1 million to go toward a new jail that will be set aside in a trust fund, $4,500 toward the local historical society and museum, $100,000 to fund an environmental review for the county's General Fund update, $7,000 for a software update, $45,000 toward the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance, $7,500 toward the Mother Lode Fair, $20,000 to put cameras in Courthouse Square and the remainder into contingencies.

The adopted budget reflects a 7.7 percent increase over last year's adopted budget of $134.48 million but only a little more than 1.25 percent overall increase in personnel.

In other news, the county Board of Supervisors:

• Chose to sponsor a Tuolumne Utilities District proposal to improve the Gibbs Estate sewer system, a Tuolumne City Sanitary Planning project, the local food bank and a housing stabilization program and Meals on Wheels in its application for grant funding to the Community Development Block Grant program. Funded by the federal government but administered through the state, the CDBG is an annual grant for communities that is supposed to focus on low-income communities.

• Authorized an application by Dollar General to place a large, internally lit monument sign in front of a store planned for Highway 108 in Jamestown.

• Voted to apply for up to $20 million from the state to go toward a new county jail.

The Union Democrat
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