The Yolo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday once again approved a county budget in less than two hours with little of the disagreement that generally accompanies a budget approval process in other jurisdictions.
The $317 million operating budget even reflects increased revenues from improved assessed property values as well as further increases projected in the next year.
“It’s a little bit rosier picture than we were looking at before,” noted Supervisor Don Saylor of Davis.
“A more positive place than just a couple of years ago,” agreed County Administrator Patrick Blacklock.
Yolo County has seen a steady decline in county employees as a result of budget cuts that began about the time the recession did in 2008. Overall, the county saw a decrease of 400 full-time-equivalent positions between 2008 and 2013.
Howard Newens, the county’s auditor-controller/treasurer-tax collector, said in June those severe budgetary reductions helped dig the county out of a budget deficit and begin rebuilding the general fund reserve — something the county will continue to do in the 2013-14 budget by increasing the reserve to $5.6 million — about $1 million short of the $6.6 million goal.
Blacklock said Tuesday that if the county had more revenue to allocate, he would recommend increasing the reserve further, as well as addressing Yolo’s largest unfunded liability: road maintenance.
That liability is currently pegged at $305 million, significantly more than the county’s two other unfunded liabilities, pensions ($139.6 million) and retiree health costs ($128 million).
Pensions have been addressed in negotiations with employee unions, Blacklock said, and the county has taken steps toward dealing with retiree health costs by establishing an irrevocable trust that will be funded through regular general fund allocations.
But road maintenance, Blacklock said, “is not one we’ve been able to begin addressing yet.”
“(It’s) most concerning because the condition of the roads is beginning to decline at an exponential rate and solutions are not readily available,” he added.
Blacklock said the county is working with the Yolo County Transportation District on developing a countywide revenue plan — likely a sales tax that could be placed on the November 2016 ballot — that also will involve input from cities.
However, he said, Yolo County’s cities are not unanimously behind the plan just yet.
Some cities, like Davis, are “very enthusiastic,” Blacklock said, while others, particularly Woodland and West Sacramento, are less so.
Meanwhile, the main subject of disagreement that arose within the Board of Supervisors’ chambers Tuesday echoed one that occurred during last year’s budget hearing: a request by County Assessor Joel Butler for additional staffing.
Last year, Butler had asked supervisors to fill two vacant positions in his office in order to keep up with all of the homeowners in Yolo County requesting reappraisals due to declining property values. At the time, Blacklock recommended that supervisors hold off on funding the positions pending a business processes review of the department.
But Saylor, joined by Supervisors Jim Provenza of Davis and Duane Chamberlain of the rural 5th District, voted to fill one of the appraiser’s positions.
One year later, those same supervisors weren’t as willing to fill the second slot.
“Last year I was an advocate for funding that staff position,” Saylor said. “This year I’m not. … I’m concerned processes in the assessor’s are not efficient and are creating additional work.”
Both Saylor and Chamberlain reported hearing from numerous taxpayers who’ve had problems with the assessor’s office.
“It seems like there must be a problem if there are this many people coming in,” Chamberlain told Butler.
But Butler said his office is “probably the leanest staff in the state,” and that the problem is lack of staff.
“We did turn in the largest assessment roll in Yolo County history this year,” he said, but the downside is the risks that lie in appeals.
“Appeals are being pushed back further and further due to staff shortages.”
Unswayed, supervisors requested that Butler work with Blacklock to see what business processes could be changed to make the office run more efficiently and come back to the board again.
“I have no doubt that folks in your office are dedicated and working hard,” said Supervisor Mike McGowan of West Sacramento. “I think it has more to do with systems.”
However, he added, if supervisors were forced to decide on additional staffing Tuesday, Butler would not be likely to get his request.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy