In September, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a $1.2 billion fiscally sustainable spending plan. It reflects a 4.3% increase over last year’s adopted budget.
In a press release, County Administrative Officer Michael Spata said, “In its broadest sense, this Recommended Budget of $1.2 billion is balanced, fiscally sustainable, and structurally sound. In doing so, the proposed funding allocations address both strategic and operational responsibilities.”
Likewise, earlier in summer, the Kings County Board of Supervisors approved its 2017-18 budget. The budget’s total expenditures and financing sources are listed at $332.61 million, up 3.5% over last year.
Both budgets were approved as county administrative officers presented their proposals.
“We’re pretty status quo in all areas except labor,” said Kings County Board Chairman Craig Pedersen. The county had not performed a salary survey for many years, he said, and had recently ordered one, comparing other agencies similar in size and demographics.
All department heads were notified as to results concerning their departments, and were able to work out their own negotiations with employees. Most notable is an increase in retirement costs, according to Kings County CAO Larry Spikes, to which Pedersen concurred.
“The cost of retirement has been underperforming,” he said, “so our costs will go up in the near future.”
“The employees have been very good,” Pedersen added, indicating the county’s receipt of get backs during tight financing periods.
The county approved a $900,000 increase for its fire department for staffing purposes. It anticipates a federal grant to further aid in an increase allotting two-person manned stations, countywide.
In the past, the county has been quite dependent upon volunteers. With an increase in insurance coverage for those volunteers and the amount of training time required, 100 hours each year, the number of volunteers has dwindled Pedersen said.
The cost of healthcare and services remains a continuing question. While the county tends to be politically conservative, the passage of a “repeal and replace” bill, as some that congress has recently introduced, would be devastating for the county, Pedersen said.
The total health appropriation is up $2.6 million to a total $39.2 million this year, most of which lies within Behavioral Health with a $2 million increase over last year. Spikes attributes that increase to the ongoing implementation of additional programs funded by the Mental Health Services Act
All-in-all the Kings County budget is economically sound – having survived the economic downturn and slow rebound during the recent past. It is rebounding, and the county is trying to once again save for a rainy day.
However, another economic downturn would be pretty tough, Pedersen said.
Tulare County’s budget growth is in part due to additional social service dollars, said the county’s supervisor chairman, Pete Vander Poel. There are a lot of residents in need and there are challenges in changing that.
Outreach has increased, “making sure there’s no area that’s not covered,” he said.
For example, $200,000 has been allocated for a countywide homelessness program. And, with ongoing water issues, close to $700,000 has been allocated for various water programs.
Like Kings County, Tulare County is also seeing the costs of retirement going up – 2.7%, Vander Poel said.
Tulare County sees a lot of strength in its ownership of facilities for its functions. The recent purchase of the former Cigna Building, located on Akers in Visalia, to house the fire and sheriff departments, as well the dispatch center, is a prime example. There is room for the county to earn from leasing added space.
However, an important fact for Vander Poel, he said, is to not hurt the county’s municipalities in the meantime.
County Fire had been leasing from the City of Farmersville – pulling out could have left a big hole in that city’s income. However, the county is again leasing that building as a training location for its Health and Human Services agency.
Tulare County’s budget is sound, and the county is seeing growth. The reserves are good, Vander Poel said. The county has received an A+ credit rating.
“Not all counties receive that,” Vander Poel said. “Tulare County has a lot to be proud of.”