Auburn, Calif. – Placer County’s budget works a lot like yours: You plan for the bills you have, and you have to make hard choices with whatever’s left over to cover future needs and unexpected expenses.
Ahead of the county’s submission June 7 of a draft budget for the next fiscal year, the board of supervisors considered expected funding needs and challenges as new priorities emerge and old ones demand revisiting.
Building new county facilities and public infrastructure, land conservation, keeping our library system on a path to sustainability, fighting crime, enforcing medical marijuana laws, helping the homeless and addressing the increasing risk of wildfire were among the 10 priority items county staff presented to the board today for discussion. Those items would make up $15.8 million of a total $17.3 million in one-time and supplemental funding requests staff expect to present for consideration in June.
The board took no formal action today, but provided their thoughts on each of the items for county staff to consider as they refine the draft budget and develop supplemental funding proposals. For several items, board members requested a deeper analysis on the expected return on investment for consideration of the eventual budget requests.
By policy, Placer prioritizes general fund spending for capital improvements like county buildings and public infrastructure. Eleven proposed or planned projects – including a regional crime lab, updating and implementing the Placer County Government Center master plan, construction of the Tahoe Justice Center and seeking entitlements for the Sunset Area and Placer Ranch development – have emerged since the county adopted its capital facilities financing plan in 2006, at a total expected cost of $285 million.
Recommendations for financing these investments and timelines for their execution will be included in an update to the county’s capital facilities financing plan, which will be included in the 2016-2017 fiscal year final budget.
District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery encouraged consultation with Placer’s community members as capital investment plans are developed.
“Let’s have a policy conversation about what are the expectations of our constituents,” Montgomery said. “What are we hearing from them that they think is really important, in terms of infrastructure? Is it roads? Is it bridges? Is it new county facilities? I don’t think we’ve had that conversation in quite a while and I think it’s really important that we do have that conversation.”
The county continues to make progress completing the Placer County Conservation Plan – a first-of-its-kind program that would set aside up to 47,000 acres of open space under permanent conservation while streamlining the environmental permitting process for development. The budget proposal would add one-time costs of $925,000 to help complete the plan and buy conservation credits. It also recommends up to $1 million for consideration in the final budget to buy open space property under the Placer Legacy land conservation program.
As Placer continues to seek public input on the possible regulation of commercial medical marijuana cultivation and sale, staff also identified an anticipated cost of between $1 million to $2 million to implement a local ordinance, regardless of whether commercial production is allowed. Those costs might be offset, staff offered, by fees or taxes imposed on commercial cultivation or sales if regulation is eventually approved by the board.
Toward keeping Placer’s library system on a path to restore eroded facilities and sustainably provide modern library services, the budget proposal would permanently increase funding from the general fund by $275,000 to replace outdated library materials and keep up with service costs. Next year’s proposed budget would follow through on plans to close the Loomis and Meadow Vista library branches.
On the public safety side, the budget proposal would provide $2.3 million to add 30 staff to complete a two-year transition to 180 beds for the South Placer Adult Correctional Facility. It would also provide a $1.1 million increase in indigent legal defense services and $3.1 million to replace outdated records management and dispatch services.
Helping to address homelessness, staff will request $1.2 million for staff increases in probation, law enforcement and human services to provide more health and social services for the homeless, better support nonprofit partners and step up law enforcement patrols.
Facing an increasing risk of wildfire, staff recommend restoring a battalion chief and buying a new fire engine in the North Auburn and Ophir area to speed response times and implementing the recommendations of countywide fire study, still in development, outlining the best way to sustainably provide appropriate levels of fire service throughout the county.
Finally, staff recommended replacing the county’s outdated financial management system, expected to be an eventual cost saver, as well as continuing to pre-fund its obligations for retired employee pensions and health care benefits.