Budget remains top priority at board meetings

The San Benito County supervisors considered cuts to the San Benito County Free Library, the Economic Development Corporation and community-based organizations at a March 20 meeting.

County supervisors discuss policies, reserve funds at Tuesday session
County supervisors discuss policies, reserve funds at Tuesday session

The San Benito County supervisors received feedback from the members of the budget committee who recently met with representatives from the five employee bargaining units about ways the county should consider reducing costs as it faces a likely $5.3 million deficit for the 2012-13 year.

At the same meeting, the supervisors reviewed their budget policies from last year and made recommendations for the policies to use as they enter budget hearings for next year.

Supervisors Margie Barrios and Robert Rivas serve on the budget committee that met with employees, and they shared some of the feedback they received.

“It really is a long list of ideas,” Barrios said. “It was well-received by myself and Supervisor Rivas.”

Some of the recommendations from employees are initiatives that the supervisors have already supported such as expediting the planning process to support large companies that want to locate in the community. Others are things that the supervisors have considered or are in the process of considering, such as a look at consolidating fire protection with the city of Hollister.

“They suggested an internal grants writer who can help with seeking grants,” Barrios said, with Supervisor Jerry Muenzer asking later if staff has made any decisions on a possible joint position for a grant writer that would be shared with the city. Inman said he is working with the city on the position.

“They mentioned vacation accrual and this is a big item,” Barrios said.

Later in the meeting, the supervisors discussed vacation accrual for unrepresented employees as a separate agenda item. (See related story linked below.)

Barrios said employees asked that furloughs be reconsidered since they felt some of the furloughs were not saving money while they wanted more flexibility for some departments to take furloughs on different days. She said they also asked to have probation fees examined since some employee representatives at the meeting said the fees are lower than in other counties and are not collected diligently. She said they also suggested looking at other healthcare options.

“It’s evident, it’s clear, we need to have consistent dialogue with our

workers,” Rivas said. “But we need to talk to the city – stay in touch with staff and leaders. For our part we need to be very diligent in going after – and how we create partnerships with the cities.”

Muenzer said he agreed that consolidation should be considered for many services, but “we are finding out it is not always easy.”

County Administrative Officer Rich Inman asked the supervisors to review budget policies from last year to see if they wanted to make any adjustments to the policies. While the supervisors agreed with maintaining most of the policies as-is, such as “maximizing opportunities to consolidate, collaborate and cooperate with other agencies to improve service delivery while saving money” and “continue to impose hiring freeze retaining appeal for special circumstances to the County Administrative Office,” they were not decided on policies concerning the general fund reserve.

For the past three years, supervisors have used reserve funds and cuts to balance the budget. While one of the policies is to maintain a general fund prudent cash reserve, “last year we didn’t included that,” Inman said.

The supervisors asked for input from Joe Paul Gonzalez, the county clerk-auditor-recorder, about whether the reserve fund should be based on the general fund or the overall county budget. Gonzalez said the 2011-12 reserve is 6 percent of the general fund.

Inman suggested that the departments could set up their own reserves to cover unexpected expenditures. Gonzalez explained that the departments are not allowed to have an unassigned fund balance. He said that any funds left over would go back into the county’s general fund balance.

“Say an individual department creates a contingency,” Supervisor Anthony Botelho said. “Would they inflate their own department budget to establish that?”

Inman suggested that they add a policy to examine contingency funds and give direction to the budget committee to discuss it.

“I hope the budget committee can come back in a reasonable time,” Botelho said.

Rivas also suggested adding another policy to promote transparency in budget decisions, with Barrios added that the procedures have always been transparent.

The budget item was finished with discussions of funding for the library, the Economic Development Corporation and community-based organizations, all discretionary items that total $739,000.

“I think every department, every area, that receives funding is aware of cuts,” Barrios said. “I will not vote to cut funding from the library entirely, but they have to be party to save in some part at the same level as other departments.”

Muenzer said the library should start considering fees for its services as well as partnerships with other agencies such as the school district and the city. He said he thought the EDC and community-based organization contributions would have to be cut as well, though he said he hoped they would be able to offer some funding.

“We should cut the EDC funding,” Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz said. “They’ve had long enough to give us a product.”

Barrios and Rivas agreed to review the budget policies and the funding for the library, EDC and community-based organizations at the next budget committee. They will bring back the items at a future supervisors’ meeting.

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