County supervisors approve budget 3-2

County counsel could be eliminated

Brian WilkinsonAugust 23, 2012 

Although the Madera County Board of Supervisors finished budget hearings in record time last week, additional employees are in danger of losing their jobs as the county looks at ways to overcome a $6.2 million short fall for fiscal year 2012-2013.

The budget was passed on a 3-2 vote with Supervisors Tom Wheeler, Max Rodriguez and David Rogers in favor while board Chairman Ronn Dominici and Frank Bigelow voted no.

"While I agreed with most of the budget, I was forced to vote no because the budget didn't go far enough," Dominici said. "The board had an opportunity to address a significant issue in Madera County -- special districts management -- Instead of taking advantage of an excellent opportunity, the majority took a pass. I could not, in good conscience, go along with a plan that kicks the can further down the road and delays a solution to an ongoing problem. We had to make some tough decisions and we are exploring more layoffs but we have a plan. Our plan will put Madera County on solid financial ground, pay off debt and restore our fiscal health. In that respect, I am pleased with the budget that was adopted."

While discussing his three-year Cost Reduction and Containment Plan, County Administrator Eric Fleming told the supervisors there is the possibility of saving the county $500,000 by outsourcing many of the day to day duties of County Counsel Doug Nelson and his six-member staff.

The board instructed Fleming, on a 5-0 vote, to proceed with additional details on his plan that is expected to correct the county's deficit by the end of 2014-2015 and come back to the board with further recommendations.

"This is all about saving money, and we will evaluate the idea of outsourcing those services to see if we can achieve the savings," Fleming said. "If it doesn't pencil out, then we would recommend that the board pass on the idea."

Other savings included a $200,000 cut in utilities due to a country-wide lighting retrofit and energy savings plan; $600,000 by outsourcing some building maintenance to subcontractors; $100,000 anticipated after a review of county management positions; and $100,000 through department consolidation efforts.

The county is also anticipating $1 million increase from what was earlier estimated in property and sales tax, along with $200,000 in additional funding from the cities of Madera and Chowchilla to help pay for libraries and animal services provided by the county in those towns.

"Once we know what the actual savings will be from these items, we will recommend getting the balance of the savings from salary and benefits concessions," Fleming said.

The new budget is $167.6 million, slightly down from last year's $170.3 million budget.

Wheeler said the budget was completed in record time, a day and a half, because Fleming and his staff and about 20 department heads worked hard prior to the hearings and were well prepared.

All the departments came to the hearings prepared with their recommendations," Wheeler said. "We are working together like a business the way is should be and are doing a good job in planning ahead."

Wheeler said, although not easy, the staff and department heads did what they had to do to be fiscally responsible to the citizens of the county.

"Madera County is not going to be declaring bankruptcy like some cities including Stockton, Mammoth Lakes and San Bernardino have had to do -- We're financially stable and have been able to maintain the majority of our services and even making some of our services more efficient in the process," Wheeler said.

Wheeler said department heads still had a lot of uncomfortable decisions to make including laying off employees and cutting programs that affect tax paying citizens in the county.

"These are still tough times and between 10 and 20 more more employees will be losing their jobs over the next 30 to 60 days," Wheeler said. "There is nothing worse than being a supervisor and having to lay people off. Lay-offs are the hardest decision I have had to make while on the board."

Wheeler feels Fleming's three year plan will eventually stop the financial bleeding and put an end to the county losing employees.

Previous budget cutting measures have included lay-offs, county hiring freeze, department reorganizations and county-wide furloughs. The continued furlough program will save the county $2.4 million for 2012-2013.

The county's fiscal crisis peaked in 2010-2011 when the short fall was projected as high as $12.3 million.

According to Fleming, the county work force has declined 21% (282 employees) over the last four years from 1,333 to 1,051 filled positions.

Employees in the subvented departments, those funded with state and federal dollars for mandatory programs, have seen a 16% reduction (97 positions), public safety had an 18% reduction (69 positions) while general government has seen a 34% reduction (116 positions).

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