The Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted on June 17 to approve a budget for 2008-2009 that is widely considered to be the most difficult in over a decade.
All county departments will have to tighten their belts, but the most significant cut is the $4.1 million being taken out of the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health department’s long unbalanced budget.
“For the last three years, the [ADMH] department has been operating in the red,” said Ed Smith, interim director of ADMH. “This is kind of catch-up.“
Due in large part to the declining real estate market and a slowdown in consumer spending – two sectors of the economy that generate the majority of county revenue – the county’s general fund no longer has the resources to fully fund the department’s budget.
“It’s a very simple formula, an unyielding formula, that revenues are down and costs are up,” said county administrator Sharon Jensen at the board’s meeting last week.
While the total budget for the coming fiscal year weighs in at $349,713,940 in expenditures – $22.9 million over last year’s budget – the numerical increase is not what it seems. The county is receiving $32.2 million in new restricted capital spending funds for four major projects including the remodeling of the Davis library and expansion of the adult detention center. The county’s net operating budget shows a 1 percent decrease from the previous year, coming in at $282,721,025.
“It doesn’t seem like a big a cut, but it’s a very significant amount because when you look at the rising costs of doing business, spending less than you did in the previous year is a big deal,” said Pat Leary, assistant county administrator. “I‘m not an economist but with the decrease in property tax, sales tax and a jump in unemployment it feels like a recession.“
Earlier this year the county brought in a consultant to examine structural and fiscal issues within the department and recommend ways of balancing its budget. As a result, the predicted deficit was reduced from $5.7 million to $4.3 million. This was not sufficient, however, to save the 62.32 full-time equivalent positions that are eliminated under the new budget or the Beamer Street Detox alcohol and drug residential treatment program proposed for closure.
“We’ve had to cut everything from the assistant director of mental health to clerks,” said Smith of ADMH. “I think we’re cutting five clinicians and another four or five program specialists. The remainder were administrative positions.“
The county is working to make sure the 15.6 percent cut won’t affect citizens who need ADMH services the most.
“We’re making a number of changes throughout the system in the way we provide services, the duration and frequency,” Smith said. “The sickest people will always get served. The reductions will affect the people who can go longer between appointments.“
ADMH operates a clinic in Davis on A Street that will take a hit because of the cuts.
“We’ll still have physicians and the elderly program [in Davis] but we’ll lose the ability to do individual office space therapy where you come in for an hour to see the therapist,” Smith said.
Other departments face similar challenges with a total of 118 fewer funded positions on the books for next year – a 6 percent decrease in county staff.
“All departments right now are having to live through a hiring freeze, reduction in services and supplies, some programs, equipment, travel and training – all things you would expect when you’re in difficult budget times,” Jensen said.
The District Attorney’s Office has eliminated all of its extra investigative help and part-time employees. It also will not be filling existing positions as they become vacant, said Ann Hurd, chief deputy district attorney.
“It’s going to mean a lot of belt tightening,” she said. “Training will be slashed and we’ll be pinching pennies in terms of supplies and expert witness fees.“
The DA’s office currently employes 38 attorneys, four of whom will soon be leaving to serve overseas in the military, Hurd said. Under the new budget, those positions will not be filled once vacated. The office could also lose attorneys to a new retirement plan authorized by the board of supervisors with a younger minimum age which will go into effect in January.
“Certainly the work will have to be distributed among the other attorneys, our investigative staff will have to step up and do more work as will our professional staff,” Hurd said.
Further complicating matters for Yolo County is the problem that lawmakers in Sacramento continue to haggle over the state’s budget, which faces a $17 billion shortfall.
“We still may have to come back and make additional adjustments later because we didn’t include any impacts from the state budget because we don’t have one,” Leary said. “There’s no way to know what they’ll do but all we know is that it will cost us money.“
The state budget was scheduled to be completed June 15, but it remains anyone’s guess as to when legislators will agree on a final version, Leary said. County staff is estimating cuts to the state budget will cost Yolo County between $3.5 and $5.5 million.
While this coming fiscal year’s budget has been balanced at least on paper, county staff is not optimistic for the future. As property values fall, property taxes – which account for 68 percent of county general fund revenues – are flattening or declining. The county is also projecting a 5 percent decrease in sales tax revenue and a 21 percent decline in property transaction revenue.
“While we know that this year’s budget is the most difficult we’ve had in 10 years, we anticipate the next year will be just as difficult if not more so,” Jensen said.
The county has been preparing for just such a dark period during recent times of growth by setting aside what county staff call “rainy day” funds to provide the county with a little leeway in balancing the budget.
“This board has been very careful about putting money aside over the last four years and has built up a small reserve between $17 [million] and $18 million,” Jensen said. “But in this one year we’re using close to half of those reserves that have been saved.“
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.