Stanislaus wraps up $945.7M budget

Fund set up to improve county 'islands'; regional planning request denied

Stanislaus County's Economic Development Bank got a new mission Tuesday, but it won't include funding a countywide growth strategy.

The Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a community development fund for the Economic Development Bank as part of the county's $945.7 million final budget. The board approved most of the budget on a unanimous vote.

The Economic Development Bank was created several years ago to make low-interest loans to cities for projects designed to bring jobs to the county. The board has been putting $1.5 million a year into the fund.

But Supervisor Jim DeMartini noted that the bank has received no loan applications in the past few years.

Supervisors approved the $1.5 million community development fund on a separate unanimous vote. The fund would be used to pay for community projects in unincorporated areas. Supervisors suggested that the money could be used to bring unincorporated islands near cities up to city codes so they can be annexed.

A separate motion to use $100,000 of the new fund to develop a regional growth management strategy failed on a 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Dick Monteith and Tom Mayfield voting no. The motion needed a four-fifths majority to pass as part of the county budget.

The mayors of the nine cities re- quested the county contribute $200,000 to the regional planning process, with the cities adding $50,000. Supervisor Jeff Grover lowered the amount to $100,000 in his motion when he saw that the funding was not likely to get four votes. The motion failed anyway.

The money would have funded a consultant to work with the county's nine cities and the county to come up with a long-term growth strategy. The mayors of the cities have been meeting for more than a year to develop a strategy to coordinate water, sewer, roads and other utilities and identify land that shouldn't be developed.

"Two hundred thousand dollars is not a large amount of money, but it could have an unbelievably positive impact on the community," Grover said. Passing up the opportunity would continue the failures of the past 50 years in planning for growth, Grover said. "It's imperative that the county take the lead here."

Patchwork feared

DeMartini said some of the smaller cities couldn't afford to contribute much. "We need to work together," he said. "If we don't, we will have 10 different plans with no coordination."

Monteith said he thought the cities should contribute more. "If regional government is an important issue to them, why are they not getting more involved?" Monteith asked.

The county could find better uses for the money, such as replacing $100,000 the governor cut from library funding for Stanislaus County in the state budget, Monteith said.

Mayfield said the Stanislaus Council of Governments already does regional planning. "Now, the mayors and supervisors are doing a regional plan. ... I'm not willing to give $200,000 for it," Mayfield said.

The board also voted to restore $86,000 to the district attorney's budget for the real estate fraud unit.

The money was cut from the proposed final budget because the unit is funded with a $2 fee for real estate transactions. Revenues have fallen 50 percent from last year because of the slump in real estate sales.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager said the unit is working on a number of complex cases of real estate fraud, and the recent high number of foreclosures makes "a target-rich environment for the unscrupulous."

The unit also does outreach to the real estate industry and to home buyers and sellers on how to avoid problems, she said.

The board voted 4-1 to restore the funding, using budget contingency money. Mayfield voted against the motion.

Salary ranges for county department heads were raised as part of the budget package, but a proposal to raise the salaries of elected officials died for lack of a motion.

The 23 county department heads have maximum salaries that range from $99,674 for the animal services director and the aging and veteran services director to $175,198 for directors of large departments such as Community Services, the Health Services Agency and the public defender's office.

The new maximums are $124,842 to $175,198. The salaries are based on the responsibilities of the individual departments and a comparison of what similar counties pay, county Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson said.

Supervisors voted 4-1 to raise the department head salaries. Supervisor Bill O'Brien voted against the motion, noting that the animal services director and the aging and veteran services director would get 25 percent raises under the new schedule.

"I need to understand a lot more before I vote on a 25 percent raise," he said.

A recommendation from staff to raise the salaries of county elected officials anywhere from 4.9 percent to 12.6 percent died for lack of a motion.

"We have very competent elected officials," Monteith said. "They know what the salaries are when they run for office. If they don't like the salaries, they don't have to run."

Grover said the board needed to "continue the dialogue" with elected officials on salaries.

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