Merced County leaders close $5 million budget shortfall

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 2, 2013 

— The Merced County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted a balanced budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year after officials found ways to close a $5 million shortfall.

Though the end-of-the-year balance was better than anticipated, officials instituted layoffs for seven employees.

The county's overall $468.8 million budget showed a $6.8 million increase from the proposed budget, according to county documents.

The total revenue for the county is $308 million, compared to $307 million in expenditures.

Revenue is now at $67 million, up from $66.4 million during the proposed budget. Higher property tax revenue contributed to the increase.

County officials were able to close the $5 million budget gap because the year-end numbers improved, according to County Executive Officer Jim Brown. The county had about $2.8 million in one-time revenue from last year.

Officials estimated that revenue from property taxes would remain flat during the proposed budget session, Brown said. But property tax revenue showed an increase of about $500,000.

Mike North, county management analyst, said the county also decreased its expenditures and gained additional revenue from vacant positions.

Total of 43 positions eliminated

The county will lay off seven employees, according to North. A total of 43 positions, all but seven of them vacant, have been eliminated. The total number of positions in the county for the year is 1,942.

Brown said the recommendations are not easy and will impact services.

"Staff has been working on placing those employees who are impacted," Brown said during the meeting.

While he applauded the efforts of staff in balancing the budget, Brown said the county still needs to watch its expenditures.

"Cash flow is still tight, and we'll monitor it on a monthly basis," he said.

District 2 Supervisor Hub Walsh said this year's budget is more promising than past years because the shortfall was less.

"All the other ones had significant shortfalls, so I guess in light of the economic circumstance we've faced that this would be a better one," Walsh said.

"I was glad that we were able to close the difference, but even with doing so, there are still challenges out there," he added. "There are people who lost their jobs. We made some tough decisions."

District 1 Supervisor John Pedrozo said the budget demonstrates that Merced County is beginning to show improvement in a tough economy.

"It's been awhile since we've been able to say that we didn't have a deficit," Pedrozo said. "Thank God we're starting to see things getting better and it's reflected in our budget. We're not out of the woods yet, but things are getting better."

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

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