Following 10 hours of sometimes raucous public hearings spread across two days, Shasta County officials added another $5 million earmarked for planning and construction of a jail annex to their nearly $659 million budget for Fiscal Year 2023-24.
The proposed spending plan — now totaling $664,905,327 — was unanimously approved just before 3:20 p.m. on Wednesday by the county’s five-member Board of Supervisors.
Previously cautioned by supervisors during budget workshops in February to maintain the status quo whenever possible, Deputy County Executive Officer Erin Bertain introduced the financial road map and introduced each of nearly 30 department heads or elected officials who then presented justification for their particular slice of the money pie.
Since Shasta County’s newly-hired Chief Executive Officer David J. Rickert joined the administrative team last week and three supervisors — Kevin Crye of District 1, Tim Garman of District 2, and Chris Kelstrom of District 5 — were new to the budget process, the public hearing format was chosen so each department’s functions, staffing and spending needs could be thoroughly explained by the administrator who could also answer questions from individual board members following the presentation, Bertain explained Tuesday.
It was also the first time for Patrick Jones of District 4 to chair the budget hearings.
Only Mary Rickert of District 3 — no relation to the CEO — was familiar with the process after spending more than six years representing the majority of rural communities in eastern Shasta County.
It was quickly apparent to all who observed the process that Crye, Kelstrom, and Jones were looking for any padding or pools of reserve funds they could slash from the budget to prove their fiscal conservative merit badge.
Each supervisor proved adept at navigating numerous budget segments displayed on a computer screen positioned in front of each person on the dais. However, when questioning numerous line items significantly larger or smaller than in previous budget years, most supervisors failed to provide department officials with an appropriate page number or program heading, thus causing some delays in locating the item or amount in need of explanation.
Numerous times, Crye appeared to grandstand his intimacy with the budgets by mentioning a recent meeting with each department head and repeating a question he previously asked in private.
“I already know the answer, but I just think the public would benefit from the information you shared with me earlier. Can you unpack that for us a bit?” Crye asked frequently.
By Wednesday afternoon, Rickert grew obviously frustrated by his tactic to hog the spotlight and several times reminded Crye to “Stick to questions about the budget!”
Following the final department’s presentation, chair Jones announced, “I’d like to see more forward progress in this budget for building a jail expansion in the downtown area (of Redding).”
“I’m not looking to cut any particular department’s budget,” Jones quickly added.
Jones then asked CEO Rickert, “What would be your recommendation?”
“I recognize the jail annex is your number one priority,” CEO Rickert responded, seemingly choosing his words carefully.
“I believe you have already set aside some $17 million for planning the jail. Of course, construction costs will be closer to $80 million or possibly even $100 million,” the CEO said.
This will require Shasta County to sell construction bonds and repay them over a 30-year period, CEO Rickert continued.
“Could we use some of our funding under ARPA,” Jones asked, referring to the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law on March 11, 2021.
ARPA is a federal program that provides a total of $350 billion in additional state and local government spending shared by all 50 states to offset revenues lost or expended due to providing government services during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“I am familiar with ARPA funding and my goal is we don’t want to send any (ARPA) money back to Washington,” CEO Rickert said, referring to the nation’s capital.
The state funding portion is approximately $195 billion with $25.5 billion distributed equally among the 50 states and the District of Columbia and the remaining amount distributed according to a formula based on unemployment, according to the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) website.
The local funding portion is approximately $130 billion, equally divided between cities and counties, the GFOA website states.
“ARPA funding must be obligated by the end of calendar year 2024 and expended by the end of calendar year 2026,” CEO Rickert noted.
As with previous COVID-19 relief packages, implementation will be an extensive process as new or updated guidance and frequently asked questions (FAQs) are developed and released by the US Treasury. For example, the legislation requires each jurisdiction’s executive to “certify” funds will be used for eligible purposes. This process is currently under development by the US Treasury, the GOFA website states.
For counties, the $65 billion in total grants will be allocated based on a county’s population. Counties receiving Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding will receive the larger of the population or a CDBG-based formula.
For those non-entitlement jurisdictions, the amount will not exceed 75 percent of their most recent budget as of January 27, 2020. Additionally, non-entitlement jurisdictions proceeds will be allocated through the state for redistribution to local governments, according to the GOFA website.
For many jurisdictions, the funding provided under ARPA is substantial and could be transformational for states and local governments in their pandemic rescue and recovery efforts, the GOFA website noted.
This is all somewhat ironic since Shasta County Supervisors for the most part eschewed national and state pandemic guidelines on business closures and have long been wary of any federal or state funding that comes with a lot of strings attached.
Stay tuned as ANC continues to keep its readers abreast of the latest Shasta County developments and drama.