County tightens its belt in proposed budget

It looks as if Butte County will be able to fund all of its existing programs and departments in the coming fiscal year, but only by the skin of its proverbial teeth.

The county released a working version of the 2001-02 budget at a Board of Supervisors meeting June 26, and while Finance Officer Cyndi Mann said that there’s enough money for “the basics” this year, she acknowledged that the county faces a $1.4 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2002-03, unless new funding sources are found.

Chief Administrative Officer John Blacklock added that the county will probably be able to sock away only 1.5 percent of its budget—about $3 million—away in a contingency fund (a sort of savings account). Most counties, he said, try to save at least 5-8 percent of their budgets in contingency.

“The county is facing several serious budget pressures,” Mann said, noting that the county has to replace an expensive public-safety radio system this year, will likely be faced with higher-than-anticipated fuel costs, has to contract for additional legal services to renew its license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and must pay for an entire department—Public Health and Welfare—to move its offices into another building.

While the county’s $275 million budget is $20 million more than it was in the last fiscal year, Blacklock said unanticipated costs and fees have put substantial pressure on the budget.

“We really can only provide for limited growth,” Blacklock said. “That’s just all there is money for at this time. … We’re trimming away wherever we can.”

One of the major pressures on the budget is the construction and operating costs of the new Juvenile Hall, which is scheduled to open early next year. Its overhead is the main reason that the county will likely be operating in the red next fiscal year, Blacklock said.

While the supervisors invited public comment on the budget proposal, it was only a small group from the Palermo area who offered it. Several members of the Palermo Improvement Association and the Palermo Neighborhood Watch asked the supervisors to set aside money to enforce health and safety laws on dozens of south county residents who illegally store broken-down cars, appliances and trash in their yards.

While the supervisors seemed concerned about the problem and asked that the matter be individually agendized for a future meeting, they didn’t seem optimistic that they will be able to set aside money to force the messy neighbors to clean up their yards.

The board will again invite public comment on the budget at its Aug. 14 meeting.