WOODLAND — Yolo County supervisors approved a preliminary $308 million budget for 2014-15 on Tuesday and will give final approval to a spending plan in September.
The budget features flat revenue growth and the only new positions approved by supervisors Tuesday were those funded by state and federal sources, all in the areas of health and social services.
The vote was 4-1 in favor of the spending plan with Supervisor Duane Chamberlain of the rural 5th District dissenting.
Chamberlain said he did not favor adding new positions — even if the state or federal government is paying for them — because if those funding streams dry up, people would have to be laid off, “and I don’t like to lay people off,” he said.
Chamberlain also objected to positions being added for health and social services but not law enforcement, contending that property crime in rural areas of the county is up and needs to be addressed.
But County Administrator Patrick Blacklock said those state and federal funding streams are restricted to specific purposes.
The Sheriff’s Department, along with several other county departments, has asked for additional staffing in 2014-15, but supervisors did not vote on those requests on Tuesday. Rather, the board will wait until fall when the state budget will have been finalized and the county has a clearer picture of where things stand.
One of the current unknowns is how much money Yolo County will receive for prison realignment.
Assembly Bill 109, passed by the Legislature in 2011, aimed to reduce state prison overcrowding by moving nonserious, nonsexual and nonviolent offenders to county jails. Funding has been provided annually to counties to implement AB 109, but Blacklock said Tuesday that he expects a 10 percent reduction in AB 109 funds this year and possible ongoing reductions due to changes in the state’s funding formula.
Competitive state grants will be available to offset some of that funding reduction, but whether Yolo County could obtain any of those grants is unknown.
The AB 109 funding cuts pleased no one.
“It’s frustrating because the state gave us these individuals to supervise and then (cut funding),” said Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis.
Other issues facing the county are unlikely to be resolved by the time the board approves the budget in September, chief among them the county’s unfunded road maintenance liability.
Yolo County currently faces three unfunded liabilities — pensions, retiree health and road maintenance, which have a combined current estimated liability of $588.6 million.
The pension liability of $145 million is being addressed through pension reform and lowering of the formula for new employees as well as a change in the CalPERS rate.
The retiree health liability of $138 million is being addressed through additional funds being added to the trust, capping the county premium contribution and one-time funds being reserved.
But the road maintenance liability of $305.5 million has yet to be addressed.
Blacklock said Tuesday the county is working with cities on a capital improvement plan, the first step of which is to identify regional road needs. Once identified, actually paying for maintenance will require a financing plan, possibly in the form of a regional sales tax.
But Blacklock said he doesn’t expect either a capital improvement plan or a funding mechanism to be completed by September when the final budget is approved.
With little change to the county’s budget this year and still a number of unknowns, Tuesday’s hearing focused on philosophical differences among board members on the direction the county should take financially.
Yolo County has seen a steady decline in county employees as a result of budget cuts that began about the time the recession did, including a decrease of 400 full-time-equivalent positions between 2008 and 2013.
Those staffing cutbacks helped dig the county out of a budget deficit and begin steps toward rebuilding the general fund reserve, officials have said, and as a result, the county has seen its credit rating improve.
But in noting the reduction in county staff, Supervisor Don Saylor of Davis suggested that the county look at the actual impact on services to residents and disagreed with Blacklock that the county is doing more with less.
Actually, Saylor said, “we’re doing less with less.”
“A part of attaining fiscal stability is arriving at an approach that continues to serve our population,” he said, as well as protecting the environment, achieving public safety and ensuring that children are cared for.
“We need to address how … we provide the services that our people deserve and need and that we’re committed to provide,” Saylor said.
Supervisor Matt Rexroad of Woodland, meanwhile, stressed the need to deal with liabilities, particularly before another downturn in the economy occurs.
“We as a board get really excited about piles of money but seem to ignore the holes,” Rexroad said. “Right now we have little tiny piles of money but the holes are vastly larger. We need to fill those potholes we have in our budget.”
Between now and September, the board will be able to modify the recommended budget with a simple majority vote, but once final approval comes in the fall, a fourth-fifths vote would be needed to make changes.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy