By Jennifer Grimes
Triplicate staff writer
Phones are ringing constantly as a parade of county supervisors, the auditor, advisors and union leaders stream through the catacomb of county offices. The chief administrative officer is scheduling her day by the minute to fit everyone in as the clerk of the board scurries from desk, to office, to phone with her arms always full of a new set of papers or files.
An emergency has been declared for Del Norte Countys budget and in the center of the administrative offices, the mood is on-edge as officials cut and cut and cut to make the budget balance. The goal: to find $1.7 million.
A list of 12 strategies were announced yesterday in a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors. They amount to a complete overhaul of an already bare-bones budget that hoped for help from Gov. Gray Davis.
That help was refused recently after employees of the state Department of Finance spent two months combing the countys books.
Reportedly, the state found no real problems with county bookkeeping, but found no reason to help either. The state faces its own budget deficit of $14 billion.
Now the county has announced it will pursue a loan to backfill the deficit amount and use a forthcoming tobacco settlement or other funds as collateral.
The state has turned a blind eye and the county family is going to suffer for it, said Supervisor Martha McClure to several employees and union leaders yesterday.
No definite plans or details have been revealed regarding layoffs or salary decreases, but employee union representatives were authorized by the board to spend eight hours a day to meet and confer.
As the loan buys time for county officials to come up with other solutions, the county will consider selling its parks, certain departments will be pinpointed for major spending cuts, vacant positions will go unfilled and beds at the new juvenile hall will be rented out to other counties, according to the list of strategies presented yesterday.
But even if all of those things are done, supervisor Clyde Eller warned, these are still only short-term fixes.
When, after they are implemented and we look out at years two and three, were still out $750,000 to $1 million. And this is what we have implored state officials to look at, Eller said.
Making the balancing act even tougher this year for Chief Administrative Officer Jeannine Galatioto was getting $120,000 less than expected in timber- yield taxes. The county expected and budgeted for $200,000, but only received $80,000.
This has been a really fun first two months on the job, Galatioto said with a definite tone of irony. She took over the job as top administrator for Del Norte County in October after the abrupt resignation of Ben Angove, who himself took over as chief administrator in 1999 after the abrupt departure of Tim Goodman.
The next meeting of the board on the issue will be Jan. 7. Negotiations on layoffs and employee wages and benefits will continue throughout the holidays.