County approves budget with $1.6 million hole

Emily Jo Cureton, The Triplicate

Revenues may crumble, tax collections may tumble; they're only made of money. But the law is here to stay: Del Norte County's budget must be balanced every year.

Still, on Tuesday the county's Board of Supervisors authorized staff to start spending for the next fiscal year, under a draft 2012-13 budget that's $1.6 million in the hole.

It's a familiar song and dance. The resolution allows staff to keep cutting checks, collecting cash and providing many services until officials can whittle the deficit down to zero by Oct. 2.

Meanwhile, the state's budget is undergoing similar surgery - cuts or

additional revenues, that often aren't decided until the 11th hour and

can have a dramatic impact on the best-laid plans in Del Norte County.

Reports from county department managers were presented at Tuesday's

meeting, detailing what each department has been doing this year, how

well they did it and how much it will take to keep doing it next year.

County supervisors will weigh these words before they tackle the

numbers at an upcoming public hearing. The goal is to maintain the same

services, at the same cost, as last year, said County Administrative

Officer Jay Sarina.

But the times are a-changin'. Property tax revenues for all of Del

Norte's public entities have dropped by nearly $1 million since 2010.

Sales tax collections are also declining. Meanwhile, significant jail

costs will no longer be offset by state funding for an in-custody drug

and alcohol treatment program. Sarina called this projected $650,000 hit

an unintended consequence of the state's plan for Public Safety

Realignment through Assembly Bill 109.

High employee insurance costs are also tipping the scales. Right now

the county manages its own health insurance - some $5.6 million last

year was culled from county coffers and employee wages (a five-percent

deduction from each full-timer's paycheck). In 2011-12 the county spent

$5.7 million on health care for employees, after cushioning these costs

with some reserve funds from healthier years.

Flexibility like that is one of the primary benefits of this system,

said Assistant County Administrator Officer Neal Lopez. The downside is

volatility. And federal health care reform adds a whole new layer of

uncertainty to the equation, increasing the need for outside expertise.

Officials are weighing options and will know more in July about whether

or not the self-managed system is sustainable, Lopez said.

Costs for employee health care are increasing by about 10 percent every year, Sarina said in his report to supervisors.

As other county departments brace for possible layoffs, furloughs and

yet to-be-determined concessions, 11 jobs in the Department of Health

and Human Services were approved at Tuesday's meeting.

It's not apples to apples, though.

These are state-funded jobs in a state-mandated branch of local

government: half the positions were eliminated in recent years and are

being re-established as the case loads continue to increase, according

to a report from department head Gary Blatnick.

The county's food stamp caseload has doubled since 2001; child

welfare services get an average of four referrals per day; and adult

protective services average one referral per day, his report states.

Reach Emily Jo Cureton at ecureton@triplicate.com .

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The Del Norte Triplicate
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