Supervisors OK $235 million budget

After three days of hearings, the Madera County Board of Supervisors approved a $235 million budget for fiscal year 2015-16 Thursday, an overall increase of $16.6 million over the 2014-15 budget.

“Due to the fiscal prudence of the board of supervisors, and exceptional efforts of the county management team, the revenue shortfall has been reduced by 87% from its peak of $12.3 million in 2010-11,” Madera County Chief Operating Officer Eric Fleming said. “The new budget reflects a shortfall of $1.6 million, which is less than 1% of the total budget.”

Fleming said this is a significant accomplishment, considering that if the Chukchansi Casino had not closed unexpectedly in 2014, costing the county $1.3 million in revenue, the shortfall in the new budget would have been virtually eliminated.

Fleming said for the first time since the economic downturn, the budget includes a $4.1 million reserve for future budgetary needs.

“Once again we have a balanced budget with a $7 million dollar reserve, despite the loss of revenue for sheriff and fire from the Chukchansi Casino closure,” said David Rogers, board chairman. “For the third year in a row, we are increasing the public safety budget, which highlights our commitment to a safe peaceful way of life in Madera County. In addition, we have concluded bargaining with all 13 of our labor units and extended a 5% increase in salaries to our employees.”

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler is happy with the budget and credits a ‘team’ effort that made it possible to recover from the $12.5 million deficit in 2010.

“It’s really nice passing a balanced budget with more money to do some things we haven’t been able to do since 2010,” Wheeler said. “For the last five years we have been on a schedule to erase our 2010 $12.5 million deficit ... and we made it ... with close to a $20 million larger budget than the previous fiscal year. This last year we still had about a $2.5 million deficit. The team of our staff and department heads have done a great job keeping on track to recover from those last five lean years.”

In order to address the anticipated shortfall, Fleming recommended that $1.6 million be used from the county’s accumulated general fund balance as of June 30, 2015, that will have an accumulation of unanticipated cost savings, and revenues in the previous year’s budget.

Rogers said the well crafted budget is a tribute to the hard work of county staff and the plans that were laid in 2011 to close the gap between revenue and spending.

“Barring unforeseen events, it is evident that we have successfully accomplished our goal,” Rogers said.

As part of initial county budget discussions June 23, Sheriff Jay Varney proposed restructuring his upper-level staff from one undersheriff, and four lieutenants to two commanders, and two lieutenants to save taxpayer money. The undersheriff position is currently held by Michael Salvador, Varney’s opponent in last year’s election.

Varney said the recruitment for the two commander positions will include internal candidates only, and the outcome of that process will determine if Salvador remains on staff or not. The current lay off date approved by the Civil Service Commission is Dec. 31, 2015.

“I realize it has impacts on employees, but I believe it allows me to offer the best level of service to the county,” Varney said. “It also allows me to bring on another deputy sheriff at mid-year thanks to those savings.”

In the proposed 2015-2016 budget, the sheriff's department will receive a nearly $2 million increase in funding, from $9.2 million $11.2 million, though much of the money is focused on staff relocating to a new office by mid July.

Varney said his restructuring decisions – including funds for a dispatch supervisor – were based on increasing public safety through additional staff.

“The focus of this budget was to get as much sworn manpower back to the road, or towards the road, as possible,” Varney said.

Fleming said as a cost containment measure, a strict selective hiring freeze will continue in the new fiscal year.

The 2015-16 budget currently has 146 discretionary positions that are recommended to remain vacant and unfunded for the new fiscal year. A few highlights of the new budget are:

* The General Government category reflects an increase of $900,000 over fiscal year 2014-15. The increase is primarily related to cost of living adjustments given to county employees, costs for additional staff within the auditor’s office, and Information Technology Department.

* The Public Protection category has increased $4.4 million to $11.6 million over the previous fiscal year, primarily due to cost of living adjustments to county employees, costs for the lease of the new Sheriff Administration Building in Madera, additional costs related to fully staffing the Sheriff’s Court operations for the new courthouse; increases in the contract with Cal Fire, and increased costs associated with the public defender’s contract.

* The Public Assistance category has increased $3.2 million over Fiscal Year 2014-15.

* The preliminary general fund balance for the period ending June 30, 2015, as projected by the county auditor’s office in cooperation with the administrative office, is estimated at $7.7 million.

According to Fleming, funds are included in the contingency account to cover costs associated with two multi-defendant special circumstance cases being handled by appointed public defense attorneys, payout costs related to retirements, and other unanticipated events.

Department budgets

Fleming added that the 2015-16 state budget had not been signed into law as of this writing, and any changes within the state budget and associated trailer bills that impact counties will be brought before the supervisors once details are finalized.

NOTE: The complete 2015-16 budget can be seen at; type the ‘2015 budget’ in the search bar.