STANISLAUS COUNTY — An initial $1.01 billion budget for Stanislaus County sailed to approval Tuesday.
But county leaders are bracing for a possible health services financial hit that could occur before the final budget is approved in September. Officials are preparing for another shortfall when the county opens hundreds of new jail beds four years from now.
With the unanimous vote approving the budget, supervisors denied themselves a raise but approved allocations to increase the county work force by 61 positions. About half of the employees will work in an expanded Community Services Agency call center to enroll Medi-Cal recipients next year; only three of the 61 positions are funded through the general fund.
Close to $500 million, or almost half of the county budget, reflects spending on health and social serv-ices that the county provides for the state or federal government, officials noted. Staff said that one in three county residents receives some type of public aid.
California has decided to expand Medi-Cal under the federal health reform law next year, and that could shift funding away from counties funding that has paid for indigent health and efforts to control communicable diseases.
In addition, the county will need to pay for 94 additional staff to work in expanded jail facilities in the 2016-17 fiscal year, at a $10 million annual cost to the general fund. "It's a major issue we are going to have to figure out," Supervisor Terry Withrow said.
The county hopes to open a 16-bed psychiatric health facility in Ceres early next year in response to spikes in psychiatric hospitalizations, which threaten to affect the general fund. The center, providing a less intensive level of care for people suffering from psychotic episodes, is supposed to reduce the county's inpatient costs at Doctors Behavioral Health Center. The county's daily costs will be $630 per patient in the Ceres facility, compared with $1,031 per patient at the behavioral center.
The board approved Supervisor Bill O'Brien's proposal to research legal means to reduce the Sheriff's Department's expense for courthouse security. O'Brien said the state has not adequately funded court security, forcing the department to take deputies off patrol.
Board Chairman Vito Chiesa expressed concern that the county was draining $6.2 million in "teeter reserves" to balance general fund spending. The reserve fund is fed by penalties and interest on delinquent taxes.
The county general fund, which pays for law enforcement and other needs, is projected at $239 million, or $20 million less than the current year, partly because of one-time funding this year and court security being moved to a special revenue budget. Staff said the general fund is $40 million less than the level in 2007, just before the recession.
Supervisors turned down a pay raise, despite an ordinance allowing for 3.75 percent increases in July and January when supervisor salaries in seven comparable counties are 20 percent higher. The elected officials could have boosted their pay from $70,284 to $75,660 a year. The average in the comparison counties is $89,064.
Property tax revenue up
Stanislaus expects to see a 4 percent increase in property tax revenue, while local consumer spending is projected to improve sales tax receipts by 3 percent. Libraries will get a 6.7 percent funding increase from the -cent special tax, which will pay for facility improvements.
The Alliance Worknet will lose $413,000 because of federal sequestration, but additional grant funding will more than offset the loss. The assessor's office will cut four vacant positions and receive $487,300 from the general fund to make up for revenue lost to a court decision last year. The state Supreme Court ruled that counties had overcharged cities for property tax administration.
At Tuesday's meeting, workers who care for disabled people at home again packed the board chamber to ask for a raise. Care providers are paid $9.38 per hour through the In-Home Support Services program.
Staff cited two reasons for a 2.7 percent increase in the total county budget for the year that begins July 1. The Community Services Agency will receive $40 million in additional appropriations because of an influx of federal and state funding; in addition, the Kiernan Avenue-Highway 99 interchange project, along with the Claribel Road widening, will account for $44 million in one-time spending.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.
STANISLAUS COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS WATCH
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors also took the following action Tuesday:
OK'd plans for a project to repair sidewalks and replace trees that are damaging sidewalks on Pirrone, Finney and Sisk roads in Salida. The estimated cost: $320,000.
Approved funding to purchase the 2013 aerial photograph of Stanislaus County for the geographic information system for $58,500. Local agencies and private individuals use the computer mapping and database system. County agencies will cover most of the cost, but cities will be expected to pay fees to use the system when the photo is updated in two years. Ceres and Patterson each kicked in $3,200.