Thursday, April 23, 2009

Will Contra Costa supervisors dip into reserves?

After cutting more than $150 million from Contra Costa's budget since May, supervisors will vote today whether to use reserve funds for the first time this fiscal year.

The board will need a four-fifths vote to use $1.5 million in reserves to bolster the county's health care clinics, which anticipate a wave of new clients now that the county will no longer cover nonemergency health care for undocumented adults.

The one-time-only reserve expenditure would ramp up clinics that expect to provide the bulk of health care for an estimated 5,500 undocumented residents in the county. Supervisors recently stopped covering that population to save $6 million annually.

The county expects to use a six-year, $6 million grant from Chevron to pay for the clinics in subsequent years.

At past supervisors meetings, employees and labor organizations have often called for the board to use reserves to stem the tide. However, supervisors have balked, largely due to decreased state funding and property tax revenues that would mean any rainy-day funding would just delay the pain, they said.

In addition, the structural budget issues are far from solved, according to County Administrator David Twa. Federal stimulus funds did not reach the level needed to balance the state's budget, meaning Contra Costa will face further reductions before the end of the fiscal year, he has told the board.

The health services director still is dealing with at least an Advertisement$8 million deficit and must wait to see how much will be covered by federal aid.

In October, supervisors moved $10 million from county reserves to a contingency fund, enabling them to quickly access rainy-day money. Supervisors could use as much as $16.2 million of reserves and still maintain a 10 percent reserve minimum. The county administrator's office has warned the board that reserves are not at recommended levels.

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