A priority to restore funding to the sheriff and district attorney offices and reduce the budget deficit was accomplished during Madera County budget hearings last week, although the county still has a projected shortfall of $3 million.
The 520-page, $208 million 2013-2014 budget was approved Aug. 22 by a 5-0 vote of the supervisors after a three-day presentation by Eric Fleming, county chief administrative officer and county department heads.
The projected $3 million shortfall is a significant reduction from last year's $6.2 million shortfall and $12.3 million deficit in 2010-2011. In 2012, supervisors adopted a three-year Cost Reduction and Containment Plan with the goal of eliminating the deficit by 2014-2015, a goal Fleming is confident will be achieved.
Fleming told the supervisors the $3 million shortfall will be covered by a one-time allocation from reserve funds.
Fleming said the county was able to begin restoring funding to public safety departments that were cut at the onset of the recent fiscal crisis and that it was a combination of cost-cutting measures and reorganization in some county departments that helped achieve the reduction in the deficit.
"Funding was provided for additional employees for the Madera County Department of Corrections (six positions), sheriff's office and the district attorney which should improve our ability to catch and prosecute criminals," Fleming said. "We were also able to eliminate the furlough (mandatory, unpaid days off) program and restore department service hours to the public."
Sheriff John Anderson's budget increased by $120,000, allowing him to fill 113 of the 129 positions that would represent a full staff. The additional funding will go towards filling one additional deputy coroner position, a department sergeant, and two deputy positions.
"The increase for the sheriff's department would have been more significant but some grant funds expired which reduced the overall total," Fleming said.
Fleming said last fiscal year's employee furlough program saved the county $1.9 million in salaries and benefits and that amount has been put back in department budgets. This should result in all county offices being open five days a week to serve the public. Some offices were closed every other Friday due to the furloughs.
District Attorney Michael Keitz saw his department's budget increase by $523,400.
"The DA budgets have a total of 39.3 positions and funding was provided for 36 positions, leaving 3.3 positions vacant and unfunded," Fleming said.
Fleming said Keitz is planning to hire an additional deputy DA, one office assistant and three program assistant positions.
Keitz told supervisors he plans to beef up gang prosecution efforts and welfare fraud prosecutions.
Unrelated to the county budget, a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge last week ordered Keitz' office to pay $50,000 to defense attorney John Garvin, involved in a Madera murder case due to prosecutorial misconduct by county deputy district attorney Edmund Gil according to the Madera Tribune. Garvin said that is what it cost him to counter the misconduct of the deputy DA. The alleged misconduct is over Gil making conclusions to an expert witness when the defendants' phone was sent to the witness to have deleted text messages recovered.
The Madera Tribune reported that Fleming would recommend to supervisors that the funds be paid out of the district attorney's budget.
The county budget takes effect retroactively to July 1, and runs through June 30, 2014.