Fresno County supervisors adopt first $2 billion budget

The Fresno BeeJune 12, 2014 

Fresno County's budget was adopted Thursday with 77 new jobs, marking the first time the county has topped $2 billion.

Supervisors, who needed only 10 minutes to unanimously approve the $2.05 billion budget, thanked county administrative staff for their work on the plan and employees for their efforts during tough times of recent years. There was no public comment.

The new budget year begins July 1.

Under the new spending plan, the county has 7,128 positions, although some will be filled later in the year.

Jobs for two new sheriff's deputies were in the initial recommended budget. Earlier this week, supervisors decided to add eight more deputies and pushed back other new hires to Oct. 1 to pay for those jobs.

Overall, the Sheriff's Office will get 12 new employees, including 10 deputies, while the Public Defender's Office is adding 17 new employees and the Probation Department gets 10 new juvenile justice center corrections officers.

Supervisors Phil Larson and Judy Case McNairy noted that this year's budget would be their last.

"We've come a long way in the last five years," Larson said. "I just feel there has been a lot accomplished, (but) we're not there yet."

Case McNairy said county leaders want to find ways to restore employees to 2011 pay levels, when the loss of tax revenues forced pay cuts.

"It's been a tough few years and we certainly recognize that," she said. "We want to find a way to restore back to where we've been, but we want to be cautious."

She said she was encouraged that the county's budget reserve is about $16 million and that she will leave her post with the county with more robust cash reserves than when she arrived 16 years ago.

But the county isn't completely out of the woods yet, Case McNairy said. The drought has the potential to cause major economic problems as growers take property out of production, crop values decline and farm jobs are eliminated.

"We need to make sure we are not getting ahead of what we're hopeful will be growth in the future," she said.

A $16 million reserve won't go far in the event of catastrophic fires or an earthquake like the one that struck Coalinga and caused $10 million in property damage in 1983 dollars, she said.

"The potential is great this year and events such as that can use a lot of funding," Case McNairy said.

During the budget hearings, Supervisor Henry R. Perea reminded fellow supervisors that the budget did not include raises for county employees.

County policy dictates that workers are paid out of each department's annual budget allocation.

"Whatever raises, if any, we negotiate, will be absorbed within existing departmental budgets, there is no new money," Perea said.

The county could have options to make cuts in other areas, possibly contracts with vendors, he said.

Negotiations are ongoing for the Service Employees International Union Local 521, which has 4,500 employees.

Tom Abshere, SEIU regional director, said the workers he represents deserve a raise after getting pay cuts in excess of 9% in 2011.

"The county has so much revenue that they don't have any problems filling the positions they want to fill," he said. "They clearly have the money to return the 9%."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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