The Valencia County treasurer’s office prints financial reports for county commissioners and administrators regularly, so some employees there wonder why commissioners and officials were unprepared for the budget crisis.
The county manager and the fiscal officer, James Fernández and Carlos Montoya, the previous fiscal officer, receive them daily, said Chief Deputy Treasurer Dorothy Lovato. “They read them, but it’s the commissioners who have the final say in spending and purchasing.”
The monthly reports from the treasurer’s department list all expenses and receipts and keep a record of county investments.
But both Commission Chair Al Padilla and former Chair Alicia Aguilar said these reports do not give them what they need in order to see what’s happening with the budget.
In addition to their reports, commissioners can call the treasurer’s office and “we give them whatever they want,” Lovato said.
“The information was given to them, and we can’t understand why they’re asking ‘where did it go?'” Lovato said. “The commission approves all purchasing and other expenses. They have final approval of where money will be spent. Our bookkeeper files the reports.”
But, Padilla said, “They’re saying they’re giving us a true picture of the whole situation. That budget is the projected figure of revenues and expenses, but those fluctuate back and forth. Other amounts come in. Figures change, revenues fall. You can’t look at that (the reports) in isolation because you’re not constantly getting the true figures.”
Padilla said commissioners were aware of budget problems before a crisis occurred.
“There was an indication of this. We cautioned the departments, but we got caught worse than we thought. We’re not the only ones with this problem,” Padilla said.
Aguilar said, “The treasurer does provide us with a report of revenues and cash balances.” She did not wish to comment further.
In recent weeks, the commission laid off five employees, cut hours for others and cut funding to the County Extension Service.
The treasurer’s office is responsible for collecting property taxes twice a year. But that’s not all it does, said Treasurer Diana Martinez-Coplen. It collects funds from various sources and, with fewer employees, that’s harder to do.
The treasurer’s office itself is down three employees, Lovato said. “Our mortgage clerk, Heather Garcia, and our mobile home specialist, Joline Ortega, could not afford to continue to work at reduced hours. We try to serve the public as best we can. We can’t respond as quickly” with fewer employees and fewer hours, Lovato said. “But we are trying our best.
“The mobile home specialist would go to the field and research whether mobile home owners were paying their taxes and fees. Now we don’t have a mobile home department at all,” Lovato said.
Collections (of property taxes) occur on Dec. 10, and, for the second half, on May 10.
The treasurer’s office also investigates bankruptcies, for example, claims from courts and mortgages and it deposits money in the bank.
The treasurer’s office collects money from municipalities and schools, the landfill, sheriff’s department, planning and zoning, animal control, the indigent fund and the Older American fund, a fund for seniors.
With the layoffs, everything will take longer, Lovato said.
“Morale in our office is down, but everyone is doing their job with the tax bills. It’s going to take us a little longer, but the money is still going to come in,” Lovato said.
The cutbacks have meant that when you go to the treasurer’s office, you may wait for someone in the back to step out and meet your needs. The receptionist’s area is dark because the hours for the person in that position have been cut.
Lovato said her department saw the financial problems looming and stopped traveling to save money.
“If someone’s in the red, they’re not supposed to spend,” said Danielle Jony, bookkeeper.
The reports she prepares show daily balances in every department, Jony said.
Lovato, Jony and Martinez-Coplen all said they like their jobs and often work overtime without pay. However, Jony said she may need to get a part-time job.
Like others, the women said they thought the contract with Cornell Companies to run the county jail and the agreement to operate the juvenile detention center should be looked at to see if there are ways to save money.
When the contract was signed between the county and Cornell, “there was a million dollars less in the general fund,” Jony said. “They can’t expect to expend that much. Receipts were not going up $1 million a year.”
Auditors look over all of the treasurer’s figures, Lovato noted.
“They do a thorough job. They sit in here with us and watch everything we do. We do everything in great detail. There are statutes we have to follow.”
Lovato noted she is grateful to the commissioners who, she said, have expressed concern about employees, including Al Padilla, Helen Baca and Frank Pando.