Merced County's new budget up by $30M

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJune 29, 2013 

Merced County's proposed budget for the fiscal year 2013-14 will be presented at 1:30 p.m. today at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

The budget of $462 million is up $30 million from last year's budget, according to county documents.

The increase can be attributed to several factors, including the expiration of furlough days, a correctional budget increase, and higher contributions to employee retirement plans.

Roughly $372 million of the proposed budget is "programmatic" — federal and state funding for designated programs. About $89 million is funded from local discretionary resources, such as property taxes and sales tax.

Although the budget projects no employee layoffs and a slight increase in local revenues, there is still a $5 million deficit.

"The key challenge going forward with the improving economy is whether to consider further reductions to close the deficit or identify one time funding or adjustments to bridge the gap," said County Executive Officer Jim Brown.

Property tax revenue is projected to remain flat, according to Brown.

The budget proposes 1,943 permanent county positions, up 43 jobs from last year. The majority of those positions will work in the Human Services Agency's regional call center as part of the state-led Medi-Cal expansion.

One of the challenges for Merced County is managing the costs of Assembly Bill 109 — the state's prison realignment law — which has received "insufficient revenues" from the state, Brown said.

The state slightly increased its basic allocation for the AB 109 program, from about $842.9 million in 2012-13 to $998.9 million. For Merced County, that means a jump in funding from $5.2 million to $6.1 million.

Health care reform looms ahead, including the county's responsibility to implement the Medi-Cal expansion in January 2014.

To meet that demand, county supervisors approved a $5.7 million regional call center for the Human Services Agency. The project is covered by state and federal funding.

Brown said the proposed budget is a "temporary operating plan" and doesn't include potential impacts from the Gov. Brown's May budget revision.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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