unedited tahoe mt. news story
By Kathryn Reed
“I don’t think scary even begins to describe it,” El Dorado County Supervisor Norma Santiago said of possible cuts coming from Sacramento that will impact a county budget that is $20 million in the red.
The day before the Board of Supervisors eliminated 90 more positions, one of Santiago’s concerns was staffing the Building Department’s Tahoe office. Earlier cuts mean veteran staff from Placerville will be sent to South Lake. These people don’t have to deal with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency on the West Slope.
When it came to a vote Nov. 18, Santiago and Supervisor Ron Briggs said nay to cutting 47 people from the payroll and taking 42 vacancies off the books. They were in the minority of the 3-2 vote.
“My argument was that while I appreciated the information provided to the board by (Chief Administrative Officer Gayle Erbe-Hamlin) and it was what we had requested, there were many questions in my mind regarding the operational impacts of these layoffs. Our budget should reflect our policy and some of the layoffs were going to negatively impact the county's ability to move forward on some policy issues that we have identified as being important,” Santiago told the Tahoe Mountain News after the vote. “Given this, I was concerned that we would make these cuts only to find out that operationally it was so detrimental that we would be asking employees to come back. With all the stress our county employees are already going through, I just couldn't support even the remotest possibility of that.”
The cuts equate to a savings of $3.1 million for the remainder of this fiscal year that ends June 30. Annually it will save the county $6.5 million.
“I tell people we have moved the ball down the field 50 yards and the next 50 will be tougher,” Mike Applegarth, the county’s senior administrative analyst, said.
The county may follow the state’s lead by implementing mandatory furloughs. For now, the county welcomes staff to take voluntary unpaid time-off. Applegarth said the county could save $1.3 million through June 30 if a 10-day mandatory furlough is implemented in January.
Officials are toying with the idea of cutting $2 million from the Transportation Department’s capital improvement fund. This means roads. Another $1.3 million could be saved if the county cuts its allocation to fire districts.
“Basically, it’s just a gift to fire protection districts,” Applegarth said. He admits departments like Meeks Bay and Fallen Leaf don’t see it that way.
The $20 million figure stems from sales and property taxes being much below original forecasts, as well less interest accruing. In the first quarter of this fiscal year, the number of building permits issued was half of what was projected, Applegarth said. People are asking for property taxes to be recalculated as a parcel’s value declines, which results in the county taking in less.
What all California counties, cities and education venues are worried about is how Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislators are going to deal with a state deficit that could top $24 billion in two years. It’s at $11.2 billion two months after the overdue document was signed.
Santiago said the state owes the county $3 million for mental health programs. She fears other state mandated programs will either not be funded or will be delayed.
“It puts us in a precarious cash flow situation,” Santiago said.
Supervisors will revisit the county budget in February.
The state may raise the sales tax to add cash to the coffers, as well as make previously excluded items taxable. Veterinary care is one of those services that is targeted to be taxed – this at a time when people are abandoning pets and unable to feed Fido.
Applegarth warns that lawmakers have mentioned taking the $3 million the county receives in gas taxes. That fuels the county Transportation Department.
The state can take up to 8 percent of the county’s property tax dollars.
“It would be a multimillion hit to the general fund that we would have a hard time absorbing,” Applegarth said. “The total damage (from the state) could be in the tens of millions of dollars range. We just are not able to absorb that without severely compromising the services we provide to the public.”
Despite lean times, at the same meeting supervisors unanimously agreed to dole out more than a half million dollars for “funding of Programs and/or Services to Promote the County of El Dorado's Arts, Culture and Tourism Resources.” The Nevada-based chamber received $90,000.