County budget: Cuts, cuts and more cuts expected

Joshua Sebold
Staff Writer

Editor's note: For an updated story on this subject, see " Plumas County balances budget - barely."

The Plumas County Board of Supervisors met yesterday to discuss the county budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

A report on that event will appear in next week’s paper; this article covers the plan recommended by the County Budget Committee, comprised of BOS Chairwoman and Chester Supervisor Sherrie Thrall, Quincy Supervisor Lori Simpson, County Administrative Officer Jack Ingstad and Human Resources Director Gayla Trumbo, with help from County Auditor Shawn Montgomery.

The fluid nature of the county budget process each year makes it important to keep in mind that everything in this article is based upon the committee’s recommendations.

There is usually a strong resemblance between the projected and final versions of the budget, but significant alterations are usually made as well, and some issues addressed in the draft are obviously in a discussion phase with no clear recommendation.

Conversely, the extremely high probability that significant cuts will be made in this year’s budget is abundantly clear.

The draft budget projects that revenues will drop about $1.8 million compared to last year, with a hole of nearly $3 million anticipated before a drop of ink falls on the 2010-11 fiscal plan.

A sidebar accompanying this article breaks down some of the areas where revenues have dropped.

Most of those sources listed involve taxes, fees and other funding that directly relate to economic activity.

As an example, when fewer businesses are active in the county the environmental health, building and planning departments get less work, which means the county gets less money from fees and similar sources.

An area that suffers in a similar fashion is the county’s cost plan funding, which basically amounts to payments made by non-county-funded departments, like those in the health and human services sector, for services rendered by county departments.

When state funded departments are feeling the pinch they are less likely to ask county counsel for assistance, meaning they pay the county less, and another source of revenue recedes because of issues in the economy.

At the same time, the annual payment on the Health and Human Services Building will increase from $920,000 to just over $1 million this year.

To fill the hole, the budget committee proposes a 10.2 percent reduction in general fund spending, suggesting that nearly $2.4 million less should be spent compared to last year.

A cover letter by Ingstad, accompanying the draft budget, indicates that the rest of the gap could be filled by $200,000 in contingency funds, leaving $300,000 in reserves after that.

The final piece in the puzzle is suggested to be $437,000 in one-time revenues.

The letter explained that the committee was concerned about the sustainability of using these finite funding sources, which could leave the county in a more vulnerable position the following year if the economy doesn’t begin to send revenues back up.

The letter went on to say the committee recommended adding two furlough days, which would include department heads, and closing all “non-essential county offices” on those days, which could generate $60,000 to backfill contingencies.

In a phone interview, Ingstad said he wasn’t very hopeful that such an action would work, with over 30 lawsuits ongoing in the state of California challenging various furloughs.

The committee also recommended 11 position reductions around the county and 1 percent cuts to any general fund departments that didn’t eliminate a position.

It also proposed a reorganization of the county’s tourism and economic development spending.

Both of those topics are explored further in sidebars accompanying this article.

The sheriff’s office made a voluntary reduction of $184,732 through various measures like leaving the office manager and undersheriff positions unfilled.

The district attorney’s office made a similar contribution, reducing $86,000 in county contributions by having two employees voluntarily reduce to 80 percent of full-time, cutting the on-call budget in half and other savings.

The proposed budget also includes a $25,000 reduction in the county counsel department budget.

Another creative budget fix included in the draft was a proposal by Public Works Director Bob Perreault.

The director proposed to fund the vacant engineering tech position in the engineering department, which he also heads, with funds from public works road projects that the position will be assigned to work on.

The cover letter also included descriptions of several ideas that were still at a discussion level or where the committee couldn’t agree on what to recommend.

Two of those conversations explored restructuring the museum by moving it to a non-profit with a county contribution or moving it under another department while eliminating the director position and maintaining the assistant director position.

The current budget draft eliminates the assistant director position.

In a phone interview Ingstad said one ides was to combine the library, tourism and museum functions into one department.

Another discussion topic listed in the cover letter was closing all libraries on Mondays.

The other miscellaneous topics discussed were possible reductions to the senior nutrition program or local resource centers.



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