STANISLAUS COUNTY — With the recession's crunch easing, Stanislaus County leaders will consider returning 1 percent of the 6 percent pay cuts imposed last year on county employees.
Last year's concession by the county's 3,736 workers, along with previous temporary wage reductions, helped administrators close a multimillion-dollar deficit. The county now employs 3,837.
"I don't know if we can afford it. I would like to see what the numbers are," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Vito Chiesa, who suggested the idea. In previous years, he said, "employees came to the table quickly, and it really helped us."
Supervisor Dick Monteith pronounced himself unlikely to go along, saying, "I just don't feel we have enough stability to address it at this time." It wouldn't be fair to restore some pay and have to take it away if things turn bad again, he said.
He joined with the others in a vote to explore options, perhaps at a budget hearing scheduled for June 11.
"It's worth looking into," said Supervisor Terry Withrow. He suggested that the five supervisors forgo more pay; they get $70,289 a year, or 30 percent less than supervisors in neighboring counties.
The county is on track to spend a little more than $1 billion in the fiscal year ending June 30. Leaders continue to rely on $69 million in grants that won't be renewed, and savings from previous periods, a risky practice that Chief Executive Officer Monica Nino wants to discontinue.
"We're just using less of our savings account this year," Withrow said. That account stands at $321 million, down from $388 million 10 months ago.
However, the $69 million Band-Aid is $2.1 million less than initially estimated, thanks to a better outlook on tax revenue.
"Recovery is under way, with modest signs of improvement in our local economy," Nino said.
Assistant Stan Risen added, "We think the worst is over." But he warned against putting a "foot on the gas pedal" of spending.
Ongoing challenges include:
Courts collecting fewer fines, requiring $525,000 more to make it through the next seven weeks, until the start of the new budget year
President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, which will require that the county offer more health benefits to previously uncovered employees when it takes effect Jan. 1. Chiesa said it "is going to hit us like a Mack truck."
Higher retirement payments, costing the county an extra $41.3 million in the next fiscal year
Prison realignment. The county must help change an unfair state funding formula, and the county is dealing with more inmates than expected since the shift began from prisons to county jails, administrators say.
Payments from the state have increased from $6.6 million two years ago to $12.4 million last year and $14.5 million this year, and higher tax revenue across California is expected to bump up the last figure an additional $2.3 million.
Potential shortfalls of $5.9 million in mental health care and public guardian services for the poor, plus $4.45 million for indigent adults.
In other action, supervisors voted 3-1 to let grower Jon Maring build a private runway and aircraft hangars on Cox Road near Westley and Grayson. He envisions up to 10 flights a week, mostly to survey crops and accommodate food packing clients.
Supervisor Bill O'Brien had questions about property tax breaks given to farmers that apparently will continue for the private airport and voted "no." Withrow abstained because Maring is his brother-in-law.
A hearing on the next fiscal year's budget will be held at 9 a.m. June 11 in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
On the Net: www.stancounty.com/budget.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.