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Solano supervisors to once again discuss structural deficit

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From page A1 | February 19, 2013 | Leave Comment

FAIRFIELD — Solano County’s latest general fund budget projections show $183.8 million in revenues and $188.5 million in expenses – a deficit of $4.7 million to be filled with savings.

Those figures are included in a midyear report for the 2012-13 fiscal year to end June 30. Solano County government does such things as collect taxes, prosecute criminals, run the animal shelter, maintain rural roads, run the jails and oversee rural land use.

The Solano County Board of Supervisors will discuss the midyear budget report at its Tuesday meeting. It meets at 9 a.m. in the county Government Center, 675 Texas St.

Solano County in recent years has seen a general fund structural deficit as high as $20 million. Every time the county has made cuts to get rid of the structural deficit, it has reappeared. County officials have blamed falling property tax revenues and rising expenses.

That $4.7 million figure – lower than the $10 million figure released by the county a few months ago – comes with a catch. The general fund structural deficit is projected to grow to $14.6 million in 2013-14 and $18.5 million in 2014-15.

Even with the structural deficit, the general fund should end this fiscal year with a balance of $33.2 million, the report said.

“The doors aren’t going to close,” Board Chairwoman Linda Seifert said Monday.

Next fiscal year’s budget should include no cost-of-living raises and status-quo spending from each county department, the county report said.

Meanwhile, the county will continue such board-approved strategies as reviewing all programs, filling only critical vacant positions, seeking employee concessions and automating services, the report said.

“Obviously, as property tax revenue begins to pick up, that will go a long way to reducing our structural deficit,” Seifert said.

That long-awaited day has yet to arrive, though. County property tax income fell by $1 million based on the 2012 assessment role.

In addition, the county has 835 tax assessment appeals worth a total of $9.6 billion in assessed value. The appeals include Genentech at $5.1 billion, Shiloh II Wind Farm at $1 billion and Anheuser-Busch at $815 million, the county report said.

Supervisor Jim Spering also expressed a willingness to continue with the county’s present approach of managing the structural deficit while waiting for the economy to recover – for now.

“This year is going to be the most telling,” Spering said. “If the economy doesn’t start turning around this year, I think you can count on the revenues we have coming in as the norm.”

Supervisor Skip Thomson is new to the board and the structural deficit, having taken office in January. The board in previous years has addressed the obvious cuts and done the heavy lifting, but the structural deficit has still remained, he said.

The Board of Supervisors needs to look at cutting its salary, benefits, longevity pay and auto allowance before looking for more employee concessions, he said.

“What I’m talking about is, if you’re going to ask employees for more concessions, you’d better be willing to start with yourself,” Thomson said.

The county needs to involve employees more in the search for budget solutions, Thomson said. That happened during his 1990s stint on the Board of Supervisors, he said.

“Why don’t we look to them to see if there are areas we might cut our costs, or maybe add new revenues,” he said.

There’s no immediate fix to a budget deficit that’s been bouncing around in the $15 million to $17 million range for several years despite previous county cuts, he said.

“This is the most difficult part,” Thomson said. “Now you’ve got this (remaining deficit) that’s so persistent. You’re going to have to get creative.”

The county report notes various economic uncertainties that are beyond the county’s control. Among them is how federal health care reform gets implemented and how Congress handles the federal budget.

Also Tuesday, the board will hear how the county has spent $1 million it set aside in 2010 for technological changes. A stated goal is to save money in the long run. The county has spent $760,000 on systems affecting such things as permits, property records and countywide records management.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or beberling@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.

At a glance

  • Who: Solano County Board of Supervisors
  • What: Discussion of budget and other items
  • When: 9 a.m. Tuesday
  • Where: County Government Center, 675 Texas St., Fairfield
  • Info: 784-6100

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling

Barry Eberling has been a reporter with the Daily Republic since 1987. He covers Solano County government, transportation, growth and the environment. He received his bachelors of art degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley.
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