Stanislaus budget total edges lower

The overall numbers in Stanislaus County's final budget haven't changed much from the June budget proposal, but the details have shifted as the county continues to work on its health care crisis.

The $945,728,122 spending plan is a 5.1 percent increase over last year's budget, and a slight decrease from the June proposed budget.

The biggest change is a $13.9 million decrease in expenditures for the mental health department because of the pending sale of the county's mental hospital to Doctors Medical Center.

That decrease is offset by increased funding for some mental health programs, including $1.7 million for the cost of contracting for psychiatric services with Doctors Medical Center. The budget also allocates $4.63 million in general fund money to cover a Health Services Agency deficit from 2005-2006, which was discovered this summer.

The county agreed to sell the Stanislaus Behavioral Health Center at Claus Road and Briggsmore Avenue last month because changes in licensing regulations requiring that employees of a mental hospital be employed by the license holder left it out of compliance with federal rules. Under a contract with Doctors Medical Center, the county will reserve beds at DMC for county patients.

The deficit in the county HSA budget was discovered as county officials continue to struggle with rising health care costs and low reimbursement rates from the state and federal governments.

Some other budget highlights:

  • The county budget recommends 14 new positions, bringing the county payroll to 4,603. The new positions are two deputy sheriffs and a supervising probation officer, five public health employees, three positions in environmental health, a welfare department position and one in child support serv-ices, and an accountant in the auditor-controller's office.
  • The budget also recommends a change in direction for the county's economic development bank. The bank was created to make low-interest loans and grants to cities and agencies for projects that create businesses and jobs. Under the budget recommendation, $1.3 million of the bank's $1.5 million annual allocation would be set aside for a new community development fund.
  • The community development fund will be managed by the county chief executive's office rather than by The Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance, and will look at projects in the unincorporated areas, said Monica Nino-Reid, county assistant executive officer.

    The remaining $200,000 would be allocated to developing a county regional growth management strategy. The growth strategy planning has been an ongoing effort between the county and its nine cities. It has stalled for lack of money to pay for a coordinator.

  • $680,000 is included to complete the district attorney's office space on the fifth floor of the 12th Street Office Building.
  • Anticipated revenues fall short of expenditures in the budget, and the difference is made up with money carried forward from the previous year. Revenues are projected at $903.27 million, leaving $42.46 million to be made up with fund balances.
  • The county remains in "a solid fiscal condition," county officials said.
  • "Very much so," Nino-Reid said. "We are presenting a balanced budget."

    The budget resolves the previous HSA deficit. The Board of Supervisors will consider a plan Tuesday to resolve the projected $12.6 million deficit in the Health Services Agency for this fiscal year, she said.

    "I think the county is in really good shape right now," county supervisor Jeff Grover said. Increases to the general fund give the county more flexibility than it has had in the past, he said.

    The general fund, which is financed mostly from local taxes and fees, pays for core services such as public safety, parks, planning and tax collection. The general fund budget is up 6.6 percent over last year, at $279.9 million. Most of the overall budget revenue, about 80 percent, comes from grants and programs that are earmarked for specific purposes.

  • While the general fund looks strong, economic factors call for caution, county budget planners say.
  • Housing sales and home values continue to decline, affecting property tax collections, which are the county's biggest source of discretionary revenue. Sales tax revenue has also declined, largely because of slumping auto sales.

    Health insurance costs for county employees are expected to rise 18.8 percent in the coming year even after employee co-payment for doctor's office visits are raised to $20 from $15.

    The late approval of the state budget this summer prevented county budget planners from including all the changes made at the state level, so more county budget adjustments are expected.

    The continuing restructuring of the county's health care system will cause further adjustments. The Board of Supervisors will consider some recommended clinic system changes at Tuesday's board meeting.

    A hearing on the final budget will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the basement chambers at 1010 10th St., Modesto. The budget is available on the county's Web site, www.co.stanislaus.ca.us; at the county chief executive's office at 1010 10th Street, Suite 6800; and at the 13 public libraries in the county.

    Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.