Fresno County supervisors will start the new fiscal year with a budget that will maintain workforce levels while increasing reserve funds and setting aside money for future building projects.
Supervisors begin budget hearings Monday in the Fresno County Hall of Records. The new budget year begins July 1.
The county’s overall budget is proposed to be $2.7 billion, about 2.6 percent higher than last year. The general fund budget, which primarily pays for most law enforcement services, parks and public works, is $1.48 billion, about 1 percent higher than last year.
The budget will provide about $5 million for capital projects, such as new facilities, an additional $2.3 million in reserves and funding related to the jail medical services lawsuit settlement that will lead to the hiring of 43 new correctional officers.
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Earlier this year, supervisors set aside $9 million in one-time state money to fund $3 million each for a new county animal shelter, a new sheriff’s substation in southeast Fresno and a new district attorney’s office building.
The other large boost in the workforce is in the Department of Social Services, where another 41 positions are proposed. The Department of Social Services’ funding comes from federal and state sources. The new jobs will target reducing caseloads.
Overall, next year’s budget adds 99 positions, raising the total to 7,593 countywide.
More jobs could be added in August after the carryover budgets for each department are better known.
Despite improved revenues, the budget’s introductory section does issue a cautionary tone, noting that the state and national economies show signs of slowing, a reason for the county to move deliberately in adding jobs or taking on large projects.
$2.7 billionFresno County’s projected budget for 2016-17
For example, Sheriff Margaret Mims estimates she will be able to add 16 patrol deputies with about $1 million in carryover funds. She said the funding likely will begin in October, one-quarter of the way into the budget year.
If she can add the deputies, Mims said, it will reduce the number the department is short from 87 to 71.
A significant goal for this year’s budget is to begin building an account to replace or improve county facilities.
The Hall of Records is 80 years old and the addition is about 60 years old. To make repairs, the county sometimes has to engineer its own replacement parts because the old ones no longer are available, County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau said.
“We need to at least try to do something,” he said.
The county’s budget reserve will rise to $21 million but still will be well short of the county’s goal, which is to have two months of general fund operating dollars, around $65 million, on hand.
This year’s budget will continue the move to restore employees’ salaries to a full 9 percent from 2011 cuts.
Last year, employees from the county’s largest union ratified a 5 percent raise. In July, employees get a 1.5 percent raise, followed by a 2.5 percent increase in July 2017. The cost of the contract is about $28 million over three years.
But employees also must deal with significantly higher insurance rates that will eat up their next raises, said Riley Talford, president of SEIU Local 521.
We’re grateful to the board that they acknowledge there’s a problem, and we’re working with the county to resolve some of these ongoing issues.
Riley Talford, SEIU Local 521 president
Average insurance rates for employees have risen 13 percent to 19 percent, and they pay about $500 per month, he said.
Rousseau said supervisors are trying to deal with what a county consultant called “sharp increases in the incidence of high claims” that diminished county reserves in its insurance accounts.
In December, the county initiated a cash advance to the San Joaquin Valley Insurance Authority pool to make up for the shortfall, which is being made up partially by rate increases for employees.
The advance could end up being as much as $2 million. So far, the county has used $1.5 million for the cash advance, said Vicki Crow, Fresno County Auditor-Controller and auditor-treasurer for the insurance authority.
Tulare County also has pledged $2 million, she said.
For now, she said, the account is stabilized.
Rousseau said the county has bumped employees up an additional $10 per pay period to help make up the difference, with the recognition that “it’s not enough.”
He said goals for the near-future will be not to hire significantly more employees, but to ensure that the people who work for the county get raises and improved benefits and have opportunities to advance.
Board Chairman Buddy Mendes said supervisors are working to limit the financial impact on employees.
“We’re going to try to fix it, but we don’t have enough and that’s the honest truth,” he said. “Their contribution is way higher than it should be.”
The rate increases affect all county employees, not just those who are union-represented, Talford said.
“We’re grateful to the board that they acknowledge there’s a problem, and we’re working with the county to resolve some of these ongoing issues,” he said.
If you go
When: 9 a.m. Monday
Where: Fresno County Hall of Records, 2281 Tulare St., northwest corner of Tulare and M streets in downtown Fresno