Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Contra Costa supes to discuss deeper budget cuts

After almost $52 million in Contra Costa County budget cuts in May, the county administrator will warn the board of supervisors today that they need to slice about $17 million more due to lower than anticipated property taxes and higher energy and health care costs.

"Things changed quite rapidly on the fiscal front, primarily from assessed valuations taking a drastic decline," county administrator John Cullen said Monday, referring to $12.3 million less in property taxes than May's already dreary estimate. "When you take this amount of money on top of the cuts already made, it will certainly be much deeper impacts for programs already starved for resources."

Everything is on the table including cutting positions, rotating fire station brownouts and salary rollbacks, Cullen wrote in his report.

The county administrator offered some suggestions to plug the shortfall to the supervisors. From the general fund:

Cut costs evenly among county departments.

Eliminate programs.

Dip into the $118 million reserve.

Enhance revenues.

Sell property.

Cut salaries or benefits structure (elimination of the county subsidy for employees' basic retirement rate would save $18.5 million annually); create new retirement tier; reduce health care and vacation benefits; eliminate alternative work schedules; set involuntary time-off periods.

Roll back salaries (a 1 percent rollback countywide Advertisementwould save $8.7 million annually).

Make changes in the health care delivery system.

Many of the options require negotiating with labor unions.

Two of the county's fire districts also will be affected. The East Contra Costa Fire District's coverage area saw a decrease of about 7 percent in assessed property value. The district expects to dip into its $6.2 million reserve to help ride out the losses, according to the report.

The Contra Costa Fire District has $13.7 million in reserve and is expecting "significant shortfalls." The report says the district may delay capital purchases, use reserves, cut personnel or start rolling station brownouts.

Supervisors will discuss the options today and offer guidance to Cullen, who plans to evaluate the situation through August and return to the board with a balanced budget plan in September.

Of course, once the Legislature and the governor agree on a state budget, the county likely can expect further cuts, Cullen said.

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