After listening to a budget report Monday, an official from the State Department of Finance and Admin-istration told commissioners that deductions made so far in the budget are minimal.
It may want to renegotiate the contract with Cornell Companies to run the jail and also make cuts in the sheriff’s budget.
The bottom line: the cuts the commissioners have made are not enough.
“Something more has to be done,” said Darlene Mares, an assistant division director with the DFA, after listening to a budget report from county manager James Fernández.
She said she appreciated the “difficult” work the commission has done so far, including laying off five employees and reducing the hours for others.
“But the deductions made were minimal, and it’s going to be a long, slow process for the county to get back on its feet with the cuts you made in December. They won’t even get you back on your feet. You may always just break even at the end of every year. You will never have cash reserves if you continue at this rate.” Mares said.
Fernández’s figures show a beginning cash balance of $1.3 million as of July 1, 2001, revenues of $9.05 million, expenditures of $9.3 million, transfers from the general fund to other funds and an ending fund cash that will be $839,863.
“If you start July 1 with $1.3 million and you’re projecting to end with $839,000 that can be wiped out by September. That means you’re just hoping to make it to property tax time, to get that money in to make it to June 30th. (You will) have a little cash to stretch it to September, and that’s how you’re going to operate if you continue. … But something more has to be done,” Mares said.
Looking ahead to the 2002-03 budget, she said, “You need to look at that corrections fund, you need to remove that corrections revenue from your general fund. Your general fund is an operating fund. Your corrections fund is two totally different funds. If you try to run corrections like a business, you’re never going to make a profit with the corrections fund, but we’ve got to get you as close to breaking even as possible.”
She suggested the commission look at increasing the fees for housing prisoners from municipalities and other places and look at the agreement with Cornell.
“Can the county run it or is there another company or organization out there that can run it for you? You need to look at that,” Mares said.
Also, she said, the Sheriff’s Department “is costing a lot of money,” but she added that “it’s a hard place to cut because that’s public safety and you don’t want to have any more lawsuits than you have right now.”
She then turned to the COPS grant (federal money that pays salaries for more police officers until the county or state funds take over).
“You don’t have to put all of those police officers or deputies into your sheriff’s fund once that grant expires. What you can do is every time there’s a vacancy in the sheriff’s fund within the general fund replace it (the vacancy) with the next person (officer). You don’t have to have all of those officers (on your payroll). You can’t afford to do that.”
Voters approved additional revenue for the Sheriff’s Depart-ment, Mares said, and that funding must be expended the way voters approved it. But the county could reduce the amount given to the sheriff from the general fund.
“You need to build revenue in the general fund, although I know the sheriff doesn’t want to hear this,” she said.
Fernández had prepared a detailed report listing every department’s budget before and after cost-saving measures began.
He said the cash flow is $839,861 as of June 30, which is about 1/12 of its general fund. The state requires the county to maintain 3/12 of its $9 million general fund for operations to tide it over until property taxes are collected. The state was hoping the county would have 2/12, meaning the county should have about $1.5 million on hand, he said. That’s about $700,000 short.
“More has to be done,” Mares said.
“We’re looking at all of the fees the county charges, the expenses. Right now, were looking at very bare bones. We’re not doing it as quickly as I’m sure you would like to see. The only way you can do that is to have more deductions,” Fernández said.
Commissioner Alicia Aguilar said “the county manager needs direction from the commission. We’re putting him in a position to come back with recommendations. … We have to give him some numbers and say this is what we’re asking you to do. Give him numbers, and he can come back with recommendations.”
Aguilar said the commission should say it wants a certain amount “made up” from the budget and then let Fernández come back with some recommendations about how to cut from departments or from money set aside to pay for equipment.
Commissioner Gary Daves said a committee he chairs to look at the budget “will do its level best to come in with recommendations to save as much as possible. The range of possibilities runs from termination of the contract (with Cornell) to looking at things within the contract, and the juvenile detention center. I am hoping our committee can bring this commission something to help in a substantial way.”
Mares noted that expected revenues also are not coming in as projected.
“You may have less money in September. You can leave it the way it is right now and, just year-to-year and quarter-to-quarter, hope that you make it, because the cuts you made were minimal. Or you can make additional cuts.”
Pando asked about additional personnel cuts.
Mares acknowledged that this is the highest amount of the budget, but Pando asked how you can run the government with few employees.
Aguilar suggested that the commissioners appoint a committee of business executives to offer advice.
But Pando said he would like to wait until the committee headed by Daves gives its report. That report should come in 60 days.
Pando said running the jail is the county’s main problem, “but the county will not go broke in 60 days. We should not go into panic mode.”
The committee looking at ways to save money could figure out ways to save half a million dollars which “may not fix it but will at least give us a running start.”
Aguilar said the information must be compiled into one document and planning must be done. The budget must be finalized in a few weeks.
Mares said the elected officials and county commission must work as a team.
Commissioner Helen Baca said: “I am well aware that we’re in trouble with the budget, but I will be damned if I’m going to sacrifice the employees more than they have already had to cut. I will not allow employees to be cut any more than they have already, at least with my vote.”
Mares and Padilla praised Fernández for all of the work he has done preparing reports on the budget.