Stanislaus County's fiscal health on the mend

More jobs anticipated in final budget; public hearing Sept. 10

kcarlson@modbee.comAugust 30, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
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    E-mail: kcarlson@modbee.com

A proposed final budget for Stanislaus County released Friday shows the county is in slightly better fiscal health than it was 2½ months ago, when the preliminary budget was approved, and proposes to add 13 positions to the county work force.

The final budget, totaling $1.04 billion, is a 3 percent increase over the tentative budget approved June 11. According to a news release, county staff identified about $14.8 million in cost savings from previous years and will get $6 million in increased federal revenue for StanWORKs programs as a result of health care reform.

The federal revenue would fund 13 positions for the Community Services Agency, which needs more eligibility workers to enroll people in the Obamacare expansion of the Medi-Cal program in California.

Since June, the county also has funded 10 positions for departments involved with public safety realignment.

With those staffing increases, county government would have 3,920 full-time allocated positions, up from 3,799 in the 2012-13 budget year. That's about 680 fewer positions than the county had in 2007, before the recession triggered staff cuts for four consecutive years.

County supervisors could approve the final budget after holding a public hearing Sept. 10.

Interim Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen said it's a hold-the-line budget for services supported by what the county calls discretionary revenue. The county still is budgeting for $156 million in discretionary funds, compared with an all-time high of $181 million in 2007.

The revenue category, largely fed by property and sales taxes, has gradually improved since it hit a seven-year low of $141 million in 2009 during the economic downturn. The county uses the money for law enforcement, parks, health care and other services at the discretion of county elected officials.

The county will have to deal with a number of challenges in the last 10 months of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. The contracts with a dozen labor groups representing county employees are scheduled to expire in June.

The county and the unions will begin negotiations in the coming months, and talks are expected to continue into the second half of 2014.

In another challenge, millions of dollars are at stake as the county and its nine cities dispute what the county owes them for charging excess property tax administration fees since 2006. In late 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled that certain funds were exempt from the county fees charged for administering property taxes.

Modesto is suing to recover roughly $3 million from the county, and other cities have filed claims to recoup the excessive charges. The cities disagree with the county's position regarding time limits on contesting the administrative fees.

Future costs loom

Another concern for the county is the potential effect on the budget from the Affordable Care Act. State government decided it would manage the expansion of the Medi-Cal system under Obamacare, but that has threatened to redirect funds the county used for public health services.

The county also needs to find a way to fund the costs of housing a larger inmate population after a jail expansion is completed in 2016 or 2017. The 94 additional staff positions needed for the jail facilities and a planned intake and release center is expected to cost $10 million annually.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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