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June 25, 2010 > No frills budget passed by county supervisors

No frills budget passed by county supervisors

Submitted By Gwen Mitchell and Laurel Anderson

On June 18, 2010, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a balanced budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. The total approved budget is $4.4 billion, including all services, operations, capital improvements and reserves. The $2.2 billion General Fund budget reflects the proposed spending plan for all discretionary and many mandated services for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010, closing a $223.2M revenue and expenditure gap.

"The County continues to be challenged by crippling declines in discretionary revenues that have led to a ninth consecutive General Fund deficit," said Supervisor Ken Yeager, President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. "Unfortunately, more reductions are likely once the State legislature takes action on the Governor's proposed budget."

The approved budget reflects priorities set by the Board early in the budget development process: maintain County services to the greatest degree possible; make every effort to maintain the County's most valuable asset, viz. employees; strive to maintain services provided by community-based organizations; and prepare the County for future challenges and opportunities by balancing the budget in ways that maximize flexibility in the future.

Since FY 2003, the County has closed cumulative budget gaps of $1.8 billion. If all the Governor's proposals for FY 2011 were to be enacted, the County could be negatively impacted by as much as $249M.

"Of necessity, we began a new budget development process this year," said County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith. "Departments rose to the challenge to look across organizational lines for efficiencies and to question whether business could be done in fundamentally different ways. We've also adjusted the way departmental base budgets are developed to restrict discretionary spending and capture savings and we've eliminated 172 positions."

When budget hearings began on June 14, Smith outlined changes that occurred after the Recommended Budget went to print. Increased savings in fund balance, resulting from spending controls put in place earlier in the year and reduced debt service expenditures, among other things, improved the County's finances by $4.2M. Those funds enabled the Board to make some budgetary adjustments and set aside a small reserve in anticipation of State budget impacts.

The use of $138M of one-time revenues to balance the budget delays the pain for another year but Smith reasons it was the right course of action to minimize the impact on services and families.

The one-time solutions consist of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Revenue (ARRA) which is expected to be extended for six months and bring the County an estimated $33.8M; $27M in one-time funds from the San Jose Redevelopment Agency after coming to an agreement; and a Hospital Fee that would be imposed on hospitals by the State for additional federal funding of State Medi-Cal resources. Santa Clara County's share would be $49.2M.

The Social Services Agency will close and decentralize the Clover House Visitation Center and reduce Foster Care expenses to reflect the State's adjustment to group home rates. These changes and others will save $27.8M.

"The Board focused on maintaining as much of our community services as possible, including restoring $921,000 in funding for services contracted by the County with community-based organizations," said Supervisor Liz Kniss, Chair of the Health and Hospital Committee. "This will also save a total of 90 jobs in the community at a time when economic recovery is slow."

Several redundant functions performed by the Sheriff's Office and the Department of Correction have been restructured. Projected savings of $5.8M are expected by eliminating duplication in units such as Internal Affairs, Human Resources and other administrative areas.

The Board restored staff which will allow the Probation Department to retain four positions for the Community Release Program, one of the important alternatives to juvenile detention. Supervisor George Shirakawa, Chair of the Public Safety and Justice Committee argued the cost of potential re-incarceration could be much greater.

The approved budget includes additional funding for the Public Health and Drug and Alcohol Departments, which have endured several years of cutbacks. The Mental Health Department was spared cuts beyond the across-the-board service and supply reductions.

"Additional health resources further the Health Agenda," said Yeager. "This initiative is a comprehensive program to help improve the community's health, not only because it's the right thing to do but because taxpayers carry the financial burden for diseases that are preventable."

"We've restored funds for civil legal services for those who cannot afford attorneys," said Supervisor Dave Cortese, Chair of the Finance and Government Operations Committee. "Legal representation is such a fundamental part of our democracy, the ability to pay shouldn't determine access to critical legal assistance in time of need."

"Support from many of the County's unions to hold contracts at prior-year levels gave us a solid foundation and enables incremental changes," said Yeager. "We've averted disaster for now and are bracing ourselves for the impact of reductions the State is likely to pass on to counties with the passage of its budget later this summer."

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