The Board of Supervisors on this day received a Mid-Year Budget Report from Bebe Palin, Fiscal Chief, and began the first steps to prepare the 2014-15 Budget. In general, the news was good, with most Departments reporting little variance from budgeted amounts at this mid-point. Revenues declined significantly at the start of the recession in 2008, and the county undertook absolute reductions in programs, staff and salary levels. Revenues have increased slowly since then, although some of those increases were one-time. Palin does not anticipate a full return to pre-recession levels next year. However, the County has directed departments to assume a 3% increase in General Fund support when putting together their proposed budget for 2014-15. This may not be sufficient for all departments to maintain current service levels and meet the increased costs of doing business. At this point, the county continues to preserve two Reserve funds: a $5 million Contingency Reserve, which could provide emergency funding if needed. In addition, the county maintains a $10 million General Reserve that provides a ‘super savings account’ to protect cash flow, provide loans for special districts, and for major crises. The Board does not intend to ever use more than $2 million of this fund in a single fiscal year.
There are a few areas where budget targets this fiscal year may not be met. The critical incident on Chaparral Drive, resulting ultimately in a major evacuation followed by burning a house with explosives inside, will be a factor in the Sheriff’s budget. Moreover, the Sheriff is already dealing with a volatile mix of one-time funds that may affect the budget. The District Attorney has just filed charges against three individuals that may result in capital cases, which might affect that budget. And the Mental Health services budget may also not be met. The state has not yet paid two years of Medi-Cal reimbursements. (The county was projected to receive $2 million from this source.) County mental health programs continue to receive more patients who are more ill than anticipated. Transfers from other Health and Human Services departments may be proposed to deal with the mental health shortfall. There will be potential additional challenges as well, including continued slow growth in discretionary revenue and increases to the costs of pensions related to people retiring earlier and living longer. For a change, the state budget appears not to contain large threats so far.
The Board approved a motion to direct Departments to stay within net county budgeted amounts in this fiscal year. They also approved a set of fiscal principles to guide budget development. These principles can be summarized as a commitment to never spend money the county does not have. They provide for careful control of staff positions, especially those created with grant or state funds. The Board believes that the use of principles guiding budgeting in the past is the reason the county is in relatively good financial health.
The Board approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Shasta County Sheriff’s Administrative Association Bargaining Unit that provides salary increases of 3% on March 19, 2014; 3% on November 30, 2014 and 3% on October 4, 2015. Supervisor Leonard Moty noted that these levels are consistent with the raises given to other employee units, although the process has been delayed somewhat.
The Board adopted a resolution formally ending the Declaration of Emergency associated with the mobile home on Chaparral Drive that contained explosives. The Sheriff reported that the mobile home was burned with no further injuries (other than the resident, whose initial explosion caused him to lose a hand and the emergency to be declared), and no collateral damage to surrounding homes. The county has already spent more than $170,000 on overtime and other costs, not counting regular staff or equipment expenditures, not counting all the assistance provided by other federal, state and local agencies, and not counting all the volunteer hours. The county may try to recover these costs from the home owner. The Board expressed frustration that the Governor’s Office never did adopt an emergency resolution upon receiving the request from the county.
The Annual Report of the Shasta Mosquito and Vector Control District was presented by Peter Bonkrude, District Manager. The report includes a historical note: the District was formed in 1919 to address repeated malaria epidemics. And, a vector is defined in this context as an insect or living carrier that transmits an infectious agent. The District reports that 2013 saw lower numbers of adult mosquitos than the previous year, but relatively higher rates of infection, and a higher number of West Nile virus infections. The West Nile virus was especially hard on a favorite Control District tool, the sentinel chicken, 21 of which were affected by the virus. One person contracted West Nile virus.
The most effective biological agent in the control of mosquitos is the mosquito fish. The District distributed approximately 38,000 mosquito fish to ponds, swamps, bird baths, animal troughs and other locations in 2013. They also established an indoor fish rearing program that will allow them to distribute these fish earlier in the year. In response to a question from the Board about Lyme disease, Bonkrude reported that there is a relatively low risk of infection in the county, with no reports in the last two years. The number of ticks here is low compared to wetter climates, and the season is short. However, Lyme disease does occur, so taking care with ticks is important. Finally, the District is monitoring the appearance of a new mosquito type in the Central Valley and San Mateo counties, as the mosquito carries dengue fever. At this point, the new mosquito has not been reported here. Readers are invited to view the full report on line at www.shastamosquito.org.
Catherine Camp is currently retired. During her career, she worked as a policy and budget analyst for the California Assembly and California Senate, in health and human services fields. She worked as a policy analyst and advocate for California’s public mental health system. Early in her career, she worked in the Community Action and Head Start programs in Shasta County.