Looks good on paper

County supervisors approve 2016-17 budget, library funding without fuss

The county’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes funding for more hours at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library.

The county’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes funding for more hours at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library.


Sharpen your pencil:
To view Butte County's budget for fiscal year 2016-17, go to www.buttecounty.net/administration/countybudget.aspx.

It’s not easy getting people interested in the often dry affairs of local government, but public participation is vital. That’s the impetus for a new outreach campaign titled “I Am Butte County.”

The campaign, which the county intends to roll out online in the coming months, includes written profiles, photographs and video vignettes of county employees. The idea is that, by humanizing the staff members who provide public services such as animal control, probation and mental health care, people will better understand the services themselves.

“We don’t do a good job of telling our story,” said Paul Hahn, the county’s chief administrative officer, during the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (June 28). “We don’t tell our citizens who we are and what we do.”

The county wants more engagement. So, it may have been discouraging later in the meeting, when nobody at all spoke up during the supervisors’ hearing on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2016-17. After receiving no public comments—and with very little discussion from the dais—the panel voted unanimously to pass the budget, thereby concluding a relatively brief affair.

There just wasn’t much to quibble over, said District 2 Supervisor Larry Wahl.

“Without a doubt, in my years of holding elected office, this is finest budget I’ve yet to see,” he said. “It covers everything and makes judicious use of the funds we have available.”

Most relevant to Chicoans, the budget earmarks money to expand hours of operation at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library.

Historically, the county has provided the library’s operating funds with help from the city, but the library has been closed on Mondays since July 2015, after the Chico City Council voted to cut $100,000 in funding.

Meanwhile, demand for the service is only increasing, said Assistant Director Sarah Vantrease during a phone conversation with the CN&R. The Chico branch alone serves about 25,000 visitors a month, and use of all six branches is up overall. “There are more cardholders than ever. … About half of Butte County residents have a library card.”

The new budget includes funding to add one full-time assistant librarian and 14 more hours to the weekly schedule. Starting at the beginning of September, the library will be open seven days a week.

Funding the library is a drop in the bucket in the context of the county’s $533 million budget, which is an 8.9 percent increase from fiscal year 2015-16.

It includes allocations for some big-ticket capital projects, such as $1.5 million to design the expansion of Butte County Jail, $6.4 million for a countywide radio communication system, and $2.9 million in improvements to the Neal Road Recycling and Waste Facility. Elsewhere, the county’s Public Works Department is set to spend about $5.4 million on engineering and constructing a new bridge over Butte Creek on the Midway.

In terms of personnel, the county will add 33 new employees for a total of 2,456. Most will be in the Department of Employment and Social Services, which is adding 29 new positions, including social workers, case managers and employment specialists. The positions are permanent and made possible through a combination of federal and state funding sources—not local dollars, said Meegan Jessee, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer. The extra staff will help the county meet mandates under the federal Affordable Care Act and its expansion of Medi-Cal, among other requirements, she said.

The only thing missing from the budget, noted District 3 Supervisor Maureen Kirk, is attention to the county’s vast system of unpaved roads. She suggested that, in January, the supervisors consider investing in long-eroding roadways.

“Other than that,” Kirk said, “this is a good budget.”