Budget concerns voiced early and often

The Board of Supervisors got a sneak peek at the kind of problems it’ll face once it begins the budgeting process this summer, and the outlook isn’t pretty.

As the supervisors voted unanimously (though somewhat reluctantly) to transfer more than $1.2 million from the county contingency fund to cover the cost of new salary and benefit agreements for county employees, they discussed strategies to help them nail down what kind of expenses and revenues they can expect to be working with next year.

Dave Houser, the county’s auditor-controller, told the board he was “concerned and apprehensive” about next year’s budget, going so far as to suggest a hiring freeze to slow down spending.

At the same meeting, a representative from the Sheriff’s Department got an earful from Supervisor Mary Anne Houx over additional funding the department asked for to cover overtime and medical expenses at the jail. Houx called the department’s request for about $250,000 “excessive, abusive [and] shameful.”

Becky Blaine, the sheriff’s fiscal analyst, bore the brunt of Houx’s ire but insisted the department was doing its best to keep costs down. She said $215,000 of the request was for a 50 percent increase in medical costs at the jail. That request was approved, and the contract to provide medical services for inmates has been put out for new bids.

The board refused, however, to give the department more money for overtime its deputies earned working at the understaffed county jail.

“We just gave you a huge sum of money, in my opinion, to solve this problem, and here you are again. I don’t think it’s fair to other departments in the county, [and] I think it’s bad management.”

The board also gave final approval to the employment contract for new CAO Paul McIntosh, whose first big assignment with the board will be (what else?) to come up with a new budget.