Fresno County supervisors concluded budget hearings Monday in a little more than two hours, likely a modern-day record, but there will be more discussion in September about revisions when the true financial details become firm.
As expected, the proposed 2016-17 budget maintains workforce levels while increasing reserve funds and setting aside money for future building projects. It’s expected to win speedy approval during the board’s regular meeting June 21. The new budget year begins July 1.
At $2.7 billion, the proposed budget is 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 $1.5 billion, about 1 percent higher than last year.
County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau advised supervisors about moving forward conservatively, noting that the average economic recovery since World War II has been about 69 months but the current recovery is now 82 months.
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We need to raise hell with our construction manager who is working for us … to bring this (jail) project in at cost.
Fresno County Administrative Officer Jean Rousseau
The biggest drama Monday was the ballooning cost of managing the $88 million jail annex project. Monday, Rousseau said construction manager Kitchell/CEM now believes the project will run upwards of $12 million to $15 million more.
Board Chairman Buddy Mendes and Supervisor Henry R. Perea both balked at the cost hike, questioning why it’s necessary. “What do we have to do to fire these people?” Perea asked.
Overall, next year’s budget adds 99 positions, raising the total to 7,593 countywide.
Funding related to the jail medical services lawsuit settlement will lead to the hiring of 43 new correctional officers. Another 41 new positions are ticketed for the Department of Social Services with funding from federal and state sources. The new jobs will target reducing caseloads.
$2.7 billionFresno County’s proposed budget
More jobs could be added in August after the carryover budgets for each department are better known.
Add fire inspectors?
Supervisors say they want to offer relief to constituents who say they are frustrated by inspectors from Cal Fire and Fresno City Fire – which serves the residents of North Central Fire Protection District, a mostly unincorporated area of the county. The complaints are over costs that constituents say are being lumped on them for small construction projects.
Supervisors want to consider adding a fire marshal and support staff to conduct their own inspections, taking that duty away from Cal Fire and Fresno City Fire. Supervisors Mendes and Brian Pacheco say they hear complaints demanding large investments in often simple buildings.
The recommended improvements from inspectors include pumps and sprinklers that often cost more than the buildings themselves, Pacheco said, and it would allow the county’s Public Works and Planning Department to serve as a one-stop shop for permit applicants.
Mendes estimates the staffing costs won’t exceed $500,000, and a portion of those costs would be offset by county fees.
Health care help?
Teneya Johnson, the regional director for SEIU Local 521, which represents about 60 percent of the county’s employees, asked supervisors to help workers cope with rising health insurance rates. Health care costs are shared between the county and its workers, and a sudden rise in claims is resulting in higher insurance rates.
Johnson suggested an improved wellness program and an on-site employee clinic “to increase productivity so you don’t have to take a day off and be sick.” The clinic, she said, could also use county employees from the Department of Public Health.
If a remedy isn’t found, Johnson warned, Fresno County will begin seeing turnover as workers leave for other counties.
What we didn’t have was an emergency shelter so you can be there until you can figure something else out.
Henry R. Perea, Fresno County supervisor
Help for homeless?
Perea said the county should consider an emergency shelter for the homeless, possibly leveraging federal and Fresno Housing Authority funds to help pay for it. He said the issue came to a head after homeless encampments were taken down near Mendota and in his central Fresno supervisor district.
“What we didn’t have was an emergency shelter so you can be there until you can figure something else out,” he said. “I see that as a gap in this county.”