Final budget mix of good, bad news

The Butte County Board of Supervisors finalized and adopted the county budget Tuesday, with a little good news putting a sunny face on an otherwise dismal situation.

County CAO Paul McIntosh told the board that county coffers contained some $82,000 in unexpected revenue and that some last-minute finagling by state lawmakers would allow the board to keep all county fire stations open and continue to fund two deputy district attorney positions that were slated to be cut.

The possible closing of fire stations was one of the most contentious issues of the budget process, bringing residents out to protest potential closures and driving a wedge between the cash-strapped county and California Department of Forestry firefighters. The two positions saved from the D.A.'s Office are for deputy D.A.s who work with the county’s Drug-Endangered Children program, which seeks to get kids of drug addicts and meth manufacturers out of unhealthy family environments. That program has been highly successful, county law enforcement officials report, and is one that the board had agonized over cutting.

McIntosh also announced that the Sheriff’s Office had received a $500,000 state grant that would allow it to maintain a presence in Upper Ridge schools and at Plumas High School in Oroville. Those school resource officers are much needed, Sheriff Perry Reniff told the board, to keep kids safe in schools and out of trouble. Unfortunately, Reniff said, the remainder of the grant will go to paying fuel and overtime costs not covered in his department’s reduced budget.

“Even with that, we’ll probably come up short,” he said.

Before the supervisors were able to celebrate their good fortune, McIntosh reminded those present that the county was still cutting 149 positions and reducing services in virtually every department.

“It’s not that this is a good budget. It’s a balanced budget and keeps services for the citizens in place,” he said, adding that at least $5 million of the $10 million the county had to make up this year was saved in one-time fixes, such as depleting the equipment replacement fund that would have bought new vehicles and other county equipment as needed.

"Next year we’ll have to come up with a new bag of tricks" in order to avoid more cuts, he said.