Auburn, Calif.- The Placer County Board of Supervisors approved a proposed $690.5 million budget Tuesday that will serve as an interim spending plan when the 2013-14 fiscal year begins next month.
The proposed budget is $39.7 million, or 5.4 percent, lower than the final budget for the current fiscal year, but the drop results largely from a new approach for budgeting multi-year infrastructure projects. The proposed operating budget is up $10 million, or 1.9 percent, because of projected increases of $7.9 million, or 2.2 percent, in the General Fund and $3.6 million, or 2.6 percent, in the Public Safety Fund.
Board members took a few moments to reflect on Placer County’s fiscal health before voting unanimously to adopt the proposed 2013-14 budget, noting that the county emerged from the recession years in better shape than most counties and is on a solid footing for the future.
“Really, overall, as a county we have come out of this recession in a stronger fiscal position than we went into it,” Supervisor Kirk Uhler said, “and I think are very well positioned as things continue to improve, very well positioned to capitalize on that strength from a service-delivery standpoint, from an infrastructure standpoint.”
“Hopefully, the economy will continue to improve,” Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said, “and, years into the future, we will be able to build back some of our services and build back some of our staffing to really provide that top-notch level of service that we provide now, but we could provide even better with more dollars and more staff.”
In a report to the board, the county budget team pointed to several accomplishments over the past year, including:
- A stronger focus on communicating with the public and employees about the county’s priorities and plans for achieving them. A cornerstone of that effort is a transition over the next several years to priority-based budgeting, an approach that seeks to improve transparency in the budget process while helping ensure county resources are allocated based on priorities and results to county residents.
- An approved plan for a phased opening of the county’s new jail in Roseville early in 2014. In May, the board approved a phasing plan that calls for initially opening two areas of the new 390-bed jail: a 120-bed housing unit and 120-bed minimum security facility.
- Board adoption of a multi-year budget strategy focused on balancing county priorities with available resources and making sure the costs of county programs can be sustained in future years.
- A comprehensive approach to infrastructure planning that seeks to identify and fund high-priority projects.
“New initiatives such as the multi-year strategy, priority-based budgeting and comprehensive infrastructure plan will allow the county to refine its budget process to accomplish several critical goals,” explained County Executive Officer David Boesch. “We will be better positioned to ensure the county allocates its resources for high-priority needs, keeps revenue and costs in balance and measures results so the public knows what they are getting for their taxpayer dollars.”
County Finance and Budget Operations Manager Graham Knaus told the board that revenue continues to gradually recover from recession-era lows, but the cost of doing business is rising as well. “Due to the continued steady hand of the Board and the ongoing commitment of departments to deliver the most cost-effective services, Placer County remains prepared and favorably positioned to respond to the slowly growing economy,” he said in a report to board members.
Knaus gave much of the credit for the county’s fiscal health to long-standing board policies that emphasize:
- Using one-time revenue for one-time costs;
- Budgeting conservatively so the county has flexibility to handle revenue and cost fluctuations;
- Maintaining healthy budget reserves;
- Focusing on innovative, cost-effective approaches for providing public services; and
- Relying on a pay-as-you-go approach whenever feasible so the county maintains a relatively light debt load.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Board Chairman Jim Holmes made it clear he likes the budgeting approach. “I would like to thank you for a comprehensive and easy-to-understand report,” he told Knaus.
Board members emphasized they particularly like the new emphasis on making the county budget-development process more transparent so it is easier for the public to provide input.
“Personally, I’m really excited about the changes in our budgeting process that allow better communication with the public,” Supervisor Robert M. Weygandt said. “I do think it’s important that any of the budget adjustments we make throughout the year are reflected in documents we provide to the public,” added Vice Chairman Jack Duran, suggesting the county may want to provide quarterly updates that allow the public to track mid-year changes.
The county budget team and board members pointed to several encouraging signs, including a $60 million reduction over the last two years in the county’s unfunded liability for post-retirement benefits other than pensions. Collectively, they are known as other post-retirement benefits, or OPEB for short, and include medical, dental and vision benefits.
A new actuarial report places the unfunded liability at about $136 million, down from approximately $196 million two years ago. Local governments paid for OPEB obligations out of current revenue on a pay-as-you-go basis until a few years ago, but now recognize them as outstanding liabilities on their balance sheets. In Placer County, the Board of Supervisors has taken several actions over the last several years to reduce the county’s unfunded OPEB liability.
Board members will hold additional budget workshops in August and adopt a final budget with updated revenue and expenditure estimates in September.