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$266 million county budget finalized

The Madera County Board of Supervisors held 2016-17 fiscal year budget hearings Monday and Tuesday, finalizing a balanced $266 million budget, complete with $6.5 million worth of breathing room - $4.1 million in reserve and $2.4 million for future contingencies.

The budget reflects a $32.3 million increase over the 2015-16.

The sheriff’s department, fire and other protection areas account for more than 30% of county expenditures, followed by welfare (29.2%), health and sanitation (16.7%), and general government (10.7%). Roads/transit, insurance, contingencies/reserves and education account for 12.5% of expenditures.

Madera County Budget Director Kevin Fries credits the positive cash flow to the combination of fiscal prudence by the supervisors, exceptional efforts of the county management team, and steady economic growth.

“Based on the economic growth, revenues continue to be strong in the Community Economic Development Department and County Clerk/Recorder’s Office,” Fries said.

Fries pointed out that the new budget includes a new Sheriff’s Canine Program financed through donations, and fire services for the new Riverstone subdivision at Highway 41 and Ave. 12. The 6,574-lot subdivision is starting with 253 lots, with total build-out planned over 20 years.

Fries said there are also funds in the budget to begin the necessary task of replacing critical Information Technology systems. A recent Madera County Grand Jury report made recommendations to improve the IT department including developing continuity of software between interfacing departments and hiring a security analyst for the network.

Fries said the focus of the new county budget is on economic development opportunities.

“Efforts are well underway to strengthen the county’s long-term financial condition by focusing on economic development opportunities,” Fries said. “Though the community and financial benefits from these efforts will be long-term (in 2016-17), the county should begin to realize some economic benefit from new developments countywide, including the start of the Riverstone development project in the Rio Mesa Area. Economic development efforts will continue this year with a continued focus on new residential, commercial and industrial development opportunities and ramped up efforts in the area of sports tourism.”

Fries said it is worth noting the 2015-16 fiscal year brought significant accomplishments to Madera County, including approved salary increases based on a compensation study for all classifications countywide.

“That action was necessary to address pay disparities that could lead to an increasing number of employees leaving the county to work for other agencies,” Fries said.

Another big accomplishment was the approval of an MOU with the Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians, allowing the tribe’s casino to reopen and resume the reimbursement of costs related to services provided by the sheriff and fire departments.

In addition, the supervisors approved a new kitchen for the Department of Corrections, paid primarily from state grant monies, and the sheriff’s department completed its move into new headquarters.

Some of the departments in the budget include: Public Protection (child support services, district attorney, public defender, sheriff, probation, fire prevention, building inspection, animal services), General Government (county counsel, treasurer-tax collector, special districts, human resources, elections, building operations), Health and Sanitation (environmental health, behavioral health, refuse disposal), Public Assistance (social services, veterans services), Education (library, agricultural extension), and roads and bridges.

Highlights of the Madera County 2016-2017 budget

The 2016-17 General Fund Budget has an overall increase of $32.3 million over the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The General Government category reflects an increase of $5.8 million over fiscal year 2015-16. The increase is primarily from the compensation study and related salary adjustments given to county employees, costs related to Information Technology Projects and full year payment on the Energy Savings Project.

The Public Protection category has increased $9.8 million over fiscal year 2015-16. The increase is primarily due to the following: salary adjustments given to county employees, the addition of the Sheriff’s Canine Program and Emergency Operations budgets, increases in the contract with Cal Fire and the new services related to the Riverstone subdivision, increased costs associated with the public defender’s contract, increases resulting from the creation of the Water and Natural Resources Department and a grant related to the Groundwater Sustainability program.

The Health and Sanitation category has increased $4.8 million over fiscal year 2015-16. The increase is primarily related to salary adjustments given to county employees, and costs necessary to care for patients within the Behavioral Health System.

The Public Assistance category has increased $11.6 million over fiscal year 2015-16. The increase is primarily related to staff salary adjustments, In-Home Supportive Services increase, the administration of the Housing Support Program, Subsidized Employment, Affordable Care Act, Protective Services programs and changes in the IT rate restructure, which are generally financed by state and federal funds.

The Education category (library and agricultural extension) has increased $300,000 over fiscal year 2015-16. This increase is related to salary adjustments and an increase necessary for augmenting the library’s books and subscription appropriations.

The preliminary general fund balance for the period ending June 30, 2016, as projected by the Auditor’s Office in cooperation with the Administrative Office, is estimated at $10.5 million. The Auditor’s timely completion of the County’s 2014-15 financial statements has allowed for a more accurate beginning balance at June 30, 2015 than was the case in the last several years.

Appropriations for contingency is budgeted at $2.4 million, which is unchanged from the previous year. Funds are included in the contingency account to cover costs associated with multi-defendant special circumstance cases being handled by appointed public defense attorneys - payout costs related to retirements - county matches associated with grants and other unanticipated events.

In 2015-16 an independent firm completed a compensation study for all classifications countywide. The board approved salary increases in an effort to address such pay disparities that could lead to an increasing number of employees leaving to work for other agencies. The county invests a significant amount of time and resources into training and developing its employees, and that investment will be lost if steps aren’t taken to retain employees.

NOTE: More details of the county 2016-17 fiscal year preliminary budget can be found at http://goo.gl/mx9GLv, or download the related file attached to the online version story.

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