State money woes cloud Placer County spending plan

California lawmakers still dealing with multi-billion-dollar deficit as county balances budget
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
AUBURN CA - Placer County is poised to take another budget blow but the state of California?s own financial uncertainties are leaving the question an open one on how low spending will go. Supervisors will be asked Tuesday to approve a $690.1 million spending plan that will provide guidance through the summer as state lawmakers hammer out an agreement and county decision-makers fine-tune spending to revenue projections. Graham Knaus, county finance and budget operations manager, said Friday that the County Executive Office will provide an overview of the development of the county?s proposed budget and briefly discuss the state situation at Tuesday?s Board of Supervisors meeting in Auburn. ?This will create an interim spending plan for the county until we have final numbers from the county and from state budget to bring back in September,? Knaus said. A year ago, supervisors OK?d an interim budget of $720.4 million and then adopted a $765.8 million budget in September. A technical change in accounting left the current fiscal year?s final budget 1.1 percent lower that last year?s. This year, projections for decreased property tax revenues have resulted in an even lower projection than last year. ?This budget is built on the solid foundation our board has put in place through long-standing direction and financial policy decisions,? Knaus said. ?It?s balanced and continues the county?s fiscal health in light of the state?s financial downturn.? On the positive side, sales tax has shown some mixed signs of recovery. ?It?s not a huge change to fund county priorities but consumers are beginning to spend more,? Knaus said. The housing and property tax picture, however, remains bleak. ?Projections are for property tax revenues to continue to go down another 1.1 percent in 2012-13,? Knaus said. ?And though we may be around the bottom of an economic downturn, when we emerge it will be at a much slower pace than experienced in the past.? What that means for the county is a budget that continues to focus on core priorities, to retain service levels at their highest possible level, he said. Knaus said the state budget and its impact on the county continue to be an enigma. ?We?re always concerned about the actions of the state and those that directly impact the county -- particularly programs mandated by the state that the county provides,? he said. Two key areas of concern remain the impact of the dissolution of redevelopment agencies and Gov. Jerry Brown?s attempts at a major realignment of services, Knaus said. ?We retain a watchful eye,? he said. ?It seems like they have a long way to go to complete their budget.? In the meantime, while the county can put its own budget on a solid course, it can?t control what happens in Sacramento on how to fund mandated programs the county provides, he said. ?With a $16-billion-dollar-plus state budget deficit, it seems there is the potential for continued reductions of funding supporting health and public safety,? Knaus said. ?There?s a great risk there.? Supervisor Jim Holmes said the state financial problems hinder planning efforts but have become a fact of life for counties developing their budgets for the year. ?It?s kind of like crystal-ball budgeting,? Holmes said. ?You have to make your best estimated guess and prepare for contingencies. And it?s really a challenge every year just to keep up with what?s coming down from the state. I think we?ve weathered the storm these last few years.? Shifts in Sacramento on spending and programs have made preparing a budget a year-round endeavor, Holmes said. ?The governor was touting that the deficit was ?only? $9 billion ? and then it nearly doubles,? Holmes said. ?We do what we can with what we?ve got.?