Stanislaus County delays most budget decisions until September

kcarlson@modbee.comJune 6, 2014 

Stanislaus County leaders are likely to postpone most budget decisions for the 2014-15 fiscal year until a final spending plan is ready in September.

County supervisors are expected to approve a proposed budget Tuesday, as required by law, but it’s mainly a copy of the previous year’s budget, which will guide spending in the first three months of the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Jody Hayes, who was promoted to assistant chief executive officer earlier this year, said the county has the option of approving a “rollover” budget. It’s done by other counties. The interim budget has only minor personnel changes and no projections for important revenue categories such as property and sales taxes.

Hayes explained that county departments need to develop new strategies for funding their operations. Four years ago, departments started using cost savings to carry them through the fiscal years, but the savings soon will run out for some departments.

With the three extra months, department managers will have a good idea of how much fund balance will carry over from this year. Another reason for changing the budget process appears to be contract talks with labor groups. New contracts need to be negotiated with the 12 unions representing county employees.

“We are in negotiations with every single union,” Supervisor Vito Chiesa said. He said employees helped the county navigate the economic crisis of a few years ago by accepting an across-the-board pay cut that mostly remains in effect. Chiesa said most everyone has tired of the sacrifice and unions have put pay increases on the table.

County supervisors are eligible for a 3.75 percent salary increase July 1, according to an agenda report. A county ordinance allows 3.75 percent raises for supervisors on July 1 and Jan. 1 each year if their pay falls 20 percent below the average of seven Valley counties. The survey would permit a raise to $72,924 a year, up from $70,284.

Stanislaus supervisors, who accepted the same pay cut as county employees, would have to vote to give themselves a raise.

The proposed budget includes $1.03 billion in appropriations, down about $16.4 million or about 2 percent from 2013-14. A week ago, county CEO Stan Risen said the county intends to remain fiscally conservative as it works through the budget process in the next few months.

County departments likely will deal with increases in salary and retirement costs when the new labor contracts are approved. Other adjustments may be necessary as the Modesto Regional Fire Authority is dissolved and the county is again responsible for its own fire services.

The public is invited to comment during a budget hearing Tuesday. Supervisors expect, however, they will hear more commentary on recommendations from the Water Advisory Committee, which are on Tuesday’s agenda.

After meeting over a three-month period, the WAC approved 17 recommendations for sustaining groundwater as a resource. The 21 committee members, most of whom have private interests, did not recommend a moratorium on well permits, wanted to see volunteer reporting of well data and suggested the county soften the groundwater ordinance approved in November.

Supervisors will consider whether to implement a county action plan for managing groundwater. It calls for:

• Developing a water resources plan to address the needs of agriculture, cities and the environment.

• Exploring local, state and federal sources of funding to assist with managing groundwater.

• Establishing a threshold for acceptable fluctuations of groundwater levels in dry and wet cycles.

The costs of the action plan are estimated at $881,000 over five years. The expenditures for next year would include $336,000 for staff costs and consultant services.

The Board of Supervisors meets at 9 a.m. in the basement chamber of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.. Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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