Union Democrat staff

What do a rabid fox and a closed swimming pool have in common?

Unfortunately, both may be part of what Tuolumne County Administrator Craig Pedro has called "the New Normal."

Low revenues, lean budgets, layoffs, furloughs, program cuts and the other grim economic realities have yielded the New Normal. Simply put, it means that local government can no longer be everything to everybody.

Not only have the frills gone, but likely many more services will disappear. And a few programs that some believe are essential and, in fact, local government's duty to provide, may be axed.

So what's all this have to do with a rabid fox and a gated swimming pool?

The fox, you may remember, attracted considerable attention last month among professional offices on Sonora's Morningstar Drive.

Employees of a law firm called Animal Control about 8:15 a.m. after seeing a fox "rolling around and foaming at the mouth" on a nearby driveway. They expected that Animal Control officer would quickly arrive, euthanize the suffering fox and take it away.

That's what might have happened two or three years ago, but times have changed.

Because of budget constraints, Sonora hasn't had an Animal Control officer for 18 months. So a dispatcher sent police officers, who were not trained to handle wild, rabid animals and could not do a lot more than watch and make sure no one got hurt.

Meanwhile, the city called for an officer from the shorthanded Tuolumne County Animal Control Department. She arrived on Morningstar at about 11, some three hours after the first call, and within minutes sedated and euthanized the fox.

It was a sad story, but one that may repeat itself given limited staffing and funding.

And that closed down pool?

Hasn't happened yet, although most of Tuolumne County's Recreation Department, its director, 100 part-time employees, and all four of its pools were threatened with elimination in early 2009.

Unanticipated revenue and cost savings rescued the pools and saved longtime Recreation Director Mike Russell's job. But times continue to change: Russell has announced his retirement and supervisors have enacted fee increases to keep the pools and other rec programs going.

Welcome, again, to the New Normal.

Bottom lines: This year's Tuolumne County budget was cut by $8.5 million, thanks to declining revenue and unabated, continuing state raids on local funds. The county, Pedro said last week, has thus far drawn its contingency fund down from $956,000 to $246,000.

We won't be eating cake anytime soon.

At a time when Attorney General Jerry Brown has announced he will make another run for governor, the advice he gave during his first, 1970s tenure in that office is in order: "Lower your expectations."

In this latest era of limits, we'll all have to get used to receiving fewer services from state, county and city governments.

At the same time, we should acknowledge that our local leaders have done their best to cope with the recession's grim financial realities.

The gridlock and profligacy we've seen in Sacramento has not repeated itself in Angels Camp, San Andreas or Sonora. Our local governments, unlike their federal and state counterparts, have been good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Tuolumne County supervisors just concluded a series of meetings and an online survey of public priorities.

Public safety - sheriff's and police departments, fire protection, emergency medical response and, to some extent, road maintenance - will continue to be priorities. But soon after that, the New Normal will kick in.

Good and worthwhile services and programs, at least temporarily, will fall victim to financial realities. Many constituents may take this very personally.

But we must recognize that such cuts are inevitable and necessary. Patience and understanding may be our best weapons in coping with the New Normal.