The Placer County Board of Supervisors received a mix of gloomy news about bleak economic conditions and encouraging reports about how well the county is handling them during budget workshops Aug. 18-19.
The gloomy news focused on ongoing revenue losses caused by the economic downtown and state budget crisis.
The encouraging news came during reports from departments on what they are doing to reduce expenditures while preserving vital public services. Many departments briefed the board on innovative approaches they are using to cut costs, bring in new revenue and maximize the use of county resources.
Public Works Director Ken Grehm told the board that departments have reduced transportation costs by about $1.3 million over the last few years by using fewer vehicles, driving fewer miles, switching to more energy-efficient vehicles and using car pooling.
County Veterans Services Officer Rick Buckman reported that his office obtained more than $22 million in benefits for veterans during the 2008-09 fiscal year. Placer County’s total was the highest for any other county in the state.
Despite the economic challenges, the Health and Human Services Department continues to serve residents by doing more with less. The demand for food, medical and other assistance offered by the department is up because of the recession. The department’s staffing ratios are down: from 2.43 filled positions for every 1,000 Placer County residents during the 2006-07 fiscal year to 1.85 filled positions for 2010-11.
Dr. Richard Burton, the county’s director of health and human services and public health officer, told the board approximately $15 million of the department’s revenue is at risk in the state’s budget deliberations.
The board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the county’s proposed $758 million budget for 2010-11 on Sept. 14 and adopt a final budget on Sept. 28.
The board met for more than 11 hours Aug. 18-19 to get a detailed breakdown on the proposed budget.
"Our entire staff, county-wide, deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the excellent level of service they deliver in these tough economic times,” noted Kirk Uhler, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
Many of California’s counties are in the midst of deep budget crises.
“By virtue of actions of this board and previous boards, as well as CEO staff, Placer County has a budget that’s in balance,” Chairman Uhler said. “Despite the challenges we’ve faced, we have been able to avoid large-scale layoffs while maintaining high levels of public protection and other vital county services.”
Over the last 2 ½ years, Placer County has laid off only about 15 employees, and those layoffs were due to reduced workloads caused by the construction industry slowdown.
Supervisor Robert M. Weygandt emphasized that the recession has tested a budget process developed by Placer County over many years.
“And, essentially it worked. I think we should be proud of that,” he said. “The key is to focus on the longer term: five years out and even more to the extent we can.”
Despite its budget challenges, Placer County continues to make progress on important capital projects.
During the past year, it opened a new interchange at Highway 65 and Sunset Boulevard, completed the renovation and expansion of the Colfax Library, and opened a new fire station in rural Lincoln.
The county currently is building a new jail in South Placer, a new library in Rocklin and a transit center in Tahoe City and is widening Auburn Folsom Boulevard in Granite Bay.
Work will get under way soon on other important projects, including a seismic retrofit and paint job on the Foresthill Bridge. Public Works also is about to begin final design work on the Kings Beach Commercial Core Improvement Project.
During the budget workshops, Grehm also reported that Placer County has been designated as lead agency on the Placer Parkway, a road that someday will link Highway 65 with Highways 99 and 70 in Sutter County. Construction will not begin for years, but the county hopes to begin planning and environmental review work on the project’s first phase by the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year.