Board Puts Finishing Touches On 2011-12 Budget Plan, Awaits State Impacts

The Placer County Board of Supervisors put several finishing touches on the county’s budget plan for the 2011-12 fiscal year Tuesday while awaiting potential fallout from the state budget battles in Sacramento.

In a written report to the board, the county budget team highlighted several state budget issues that are of particular interest to Placer County:

• A revised proposal for eliminating local redevelopment agencies across the state;
• A state plan to partially replace local public safety funding from a vehicle license fee increase set to expire June 30; and
• A budget trailer bill that would create a fire prevention fee of up to $150 per year per structure in areas where the state is responsible for fighting wildfires.

Placer County is concerned a move by the state to impose a fire prevention fee will hamper several local fire districts that have been particularly hard hit by reductions in property tax revenue over the last three years. The districts may need to seek voter approval of increased direct charge assessments so they can maintain their firefighting capabilities, and may find voters less receptive if most already are facing a new state fire prevention fee.

Placer County officials also are concerned the state could spend fee revenue collected in Placer County on fire prevention efforts elsewhere in California.

One of the biggest unanswered questions is how the state budget battles ultimately will affect the Placer County Redevelopment Agency.

Acting in its role as the agency’s board of directors, the Board of Supervisors approved the agency’s $29.2 million budget Tuesday. State law requires the agency to have a budget in place when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

County Finance and Budget Operations Manger Graham Knaus told the board that two state budget trailer bills contain proposed changes to local redevelopment agencies. Although both bills have been approved by the Legislature, neither has been formally sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

One would eliminate redevelopment agencies effective Oct. 1 while allowing cities and counties to designate successor agencies to handle remaining obligations such as bond payments. The other trailer bill would allow redevelopment agencies to remain in operation under some circumstances. Much of their revenue streams, though, would go to schools, fire districts and transit districts.

Placer County has redevelopment areas in North Auburn-Bowman, North Lake Tahoe and the Sunset Industrial Area.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved a series of contracts that will allow the Health and Human Services Department to provide a broad range of public health, children’s, mental health and other safety-net services during 2011-12.

Several HHS officials reported to the board on efforts to preserve core services to the public by finding more cost-effective ways to deliver services.

Dr. Mark Starr, the county’s director of community health, clinics and animal services, told the board that Placer County is the only county in the state that submits a consolidated application, rather than individual applications, for funding to provide a broad range of public health services. The consolidated approach reduces seven required contracts with the state down to one while allowing the county flexibility to best meet service demands.

“This one-of-a-kind integrative approach spares unnecessary administrative and reporting activities and empowers public health staff to deliver health care services to residents in a comprehensive and cost-effective manner,” HHS explained in a written report to the board.

“Kudos for that,” Board Chairman Robert M. Weygandt told HHS officials, saluting the department for its integrated, cost-effective approach. He noted the department’s approach, known as the “Placer Model,” has been recognized throughout the country as an innovative, successful way to meet local service needs, particularly in an era of diminishing resources.

The board adopted a proposed budget June 7 so Placer County will have a spending plan in place when the new fiscal year begins July 1. The proposed budget was adopted following a comprehensive series of budget workshops since February.

The proposed budget is for approximately $720 million, down 4.9 percent from the county’s final 2010-11 budget.

The proposed budget will serve as an interim spending plan when the new fiscal year gets under way July 1. Adopting the proposed budget completes the first phase of the county’s two-phase budget-approval process.

The two-phase approach allows the county to adopt a final budget after final estimates of available funding have been determined. The board plans to hold budget workshops during August and is tentatively scheduled to adopt a final budget on Sept. 13. By then, the county hopes to have a clear picture of how it will be impacted by the state budget.

Placer County still could face substantial revenue shortfalls and service disruptions if the state reduces funding for mandated county programs and shifts responsibility for some state programs to counties without accompanying funding. The county budget team estimates the county has from $30 million to $60 million at risk in the state’s budget battles.