Madera County Supervisors approve $294 million budget in record-breaking time

A graph demonstrating Madera County’s approved budget for 2017-18.
A graph demonstrating Madera County’s approved budget for 2017-18. Submitted photo

The Madera County Board of Supervisors approved a $294.6 million 2017-18 budget Tuesday in recording breaking time - five hours - and without a single change to the proposed budget that was released June 13.

The proposed budget is $26 million higher than the 2016-17 budget, and includes an estimated $15.5 million carryover from the current fiscal year, ending June 30. The 2016-17 budget was a $32.3 million increase over the 2015-16 budget.

Presenting the budget to supervisors and a handful of citizens were County Administrative Officer Eric Fleming and Deputy CAO Joel Bugay.

“All the department heads did a real good job making sure their budgets were well justified,” Bugay said. “The supervisors had the information they needed to make appropriate decisions efficiently.”

Fleming said the budget is “balanced and increases the reserve for future needs to a total of $4.9 million, and maintains a $2.4 million contingency due to the fiscal prudency of the board of supervisors, exceptional efforts of the county management team, and steady economic growth.”

The $4.9 million reserve represents about 5% of the budget. District 2 Supervisor David Rogers said he would like to see the contingency and reserve funds between 15 to 20% of budget. Although there is no set percentage used for these two categories, Fleming said he can look at having a set percentage in future years which the board can consider.

Supervisors moved quickly through the budgets of 23 departments (collective total of 115 individual budgets within those departments), often offering praise to department heads and their staff members for their dedicated and efficient work.

“This was a great day for Madera County,” Wheeler said after the board’s unanimous vote to approve the budget. “We now have a record dollar amount budget approved and had detailed backup information from departments. This year we also offered PowerPoint presentations that broke down information for the public, including comparisons to other counties.”

The Madera County Fire budget, excluding Chuckchansi Casino and the Riverstone subdivision at Ave. 12, is $6.2 million for 2017-18 - an increase of about $1.2 million from the 2015-16 actual operating expenditures for the Fire Department, with 14 of 21 line items in the fire budget increased.

For personnel, the Paid Call Firefighter (PCF) appropriations were increased by about $180,000 to allow for more support in that area. For 2017-18, the department will take delivery of two fire engines and one water tender under the new Fire Equipment Replacement Program.

“There have been rumors that we were going to lower the fire budget this year,” Wheeler said. “We not only did not cut a penny in the department, we increased it by about $1.2 million.”

The $22.46 million sheriff/coroner budget was increased $3.6 million over the previous fiscal year and will fund five additional deputies that were previously unfunded. The increase also includes $2.2 million for tree mortality operations.

The budget for Department of Child Support Services is $3.2 million.

“We are currently serving 7,432 children in the county, and 65% of child support collections are being paid,” Director Vicki West said. “We do have issues locating people (who owe child support), but we do our best to find them and are committed to working with people to help them get on a payment schedule they can handle.”

Although not part of the budget, the county has received a $19 million state grant (SB1022) to begin the process of expanding the county jail. According to Department of Corrections Director Manuel Perez, the jail is currently holding about 470 people (80% men, 20% women), and the expansion would increase its capacity by about 100. This is the third award to the county jail in the past six years. A portion of the funds will be used to improve mental health programs at the jail.

Security will also be improved by upgrading interior and exterior cameras, DVRs and other outdated electronic equipment so the jail will be in compliance with state regulations on storage of video footage.

Perez told supervisors that although they work in a tough environment, his 100 correctional officers at the jail have a lot of support for each other that keeps them going day after day.

“There is a strong bond between all the officers,” Perez said.

The budget also includes $1.18 million in funding for several key capital projects, including the design and engineering work for a new agriculture building ($200,000), schematic design costs for the new Hall of Justice that will house the district attorney and probation departments ($440,000), demolition costs for the 35-year-old jail annex building at Courthouse Park in Madera ($157,000), and improved jail security ($386,200). The amount for the Hall of Justice design costs includes drawings, regulatory compliance, preliminary engineering, floor plans, and construction cost estimates.

The budget recommended continuation of a selective hiring freeze as a cost containment measure.

The entire approved county 2017-18 budget can be seen at www.madera-county.com.