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HumCo Struggles to Maintain Services

Humboldt County is proposing what’s been described as a down-to-the-bone budget with a $2.7 million deficit and unless new revenue sources emerge, the situation will get worse in future years.

The Board of Supervisors fielded a glum presentation on the 2014 to 2015 budget at its June 3 meeting. Assistant County Administrative Officer Amy Nilsen outlined a downbeat scenario – staff was unable to make $2 million in cuts as had been recommended because doing so would lead to layoffs.

The upcoming fiscal year’s draft budget does include $1.4 million in cuts, including the freezing of seven probation officer positions and the elimination of 2.65 full time employee positions.

But Nilsen told supervisors that “for every dollar we removed, we gained another dollar in costs.” Health insurance and retirement payment costs have substantially increased and will continue to, with no new revenue sources anticipated.

That is, unless residents agree to tax themselves. The county is aiming at the November election for a yet-to-be-determined tax measure and Supervisor Ryan Sundberg suggested that without it, people can expect diminished service levels – a situation which is already at hand.

“I see a big change, in the last year or so, of people talking in the community about what we’re providing – and it’s a direct function of what we have,” he said.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell described the county as “treading water” as the budget continues to come close to being drowned by new costs. County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes said the metaphor is apt and current budget spending levels aren’t sustainable.

“The chickens will come home to roost at some point if we don’t have some significant revenue growth,” he continued.

County departments have submitted a total of about $5 million in supplemental budget requests but Nilsen said the county can only afford to approve $248,000 of it. The only requests recommended for approval are ones that lead to cost savings, such as an upgrade of financial software, or ones that are urgent, like repair of failing infrastructure in the county’s jail facility.

Supervisor Mark Lovelace said the unaffordable supplemental requests represent genuine needs. “It is a bare bones budget and ultimately, over time, some of those needs become more pressing,” he continued.

The draft budget’s level of growth is minimal due to the lackluster revenue situation. At $305 million, the budget is six-tenth of a percent higher than last year’s $303 million budget.

The county will hold its annual round of public hearings on the budget on June 16 in supervisors’ chambers, at 1:30 and 6pm.

One Comment

  1. Jim Updegraff June 20, 2014

    Bankruptcy is always an option!

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