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County adopts budget

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San Luis Obispo County supervisors rocketed through its first two days of budget hearings in less than three hours. While it may sound like a rush job, the latest round of budget negotiations is actually the tail end of a seven-year plan to reach the “new normal.”

“There really shouldn’t be anything new,” Assistant County Administrator Dan Buckshi told county supervisors on June 11, the kick off to three days of budget hearings. County officials are scheduled to revisit the budget for a final vote on June 19.

The county’s revenue this year fell about $2 million behind its expenses, but compare that to a $30 million deficit in 2008. Buckshi and County Administrator Jim Grant said the county is about two years away from reaching a structural balance with the budget, what Grant called the “new normal.”

The final tentative county budget comes in at $469.4 million. Public safety budgets were kept whole, but other agencies had to take on cuts ranging from 1 to 3 percent.

Over the past four years, the county has eliminated about 250 positions, nearly all of which were unfilled and therefore didn’t require layoffs. This year they eliminated another three unfilled positions.

Buckshi thanked members of the county’s largest public union, the SLO County Employees’ Association, whose members have sacrificed pay in order to save jobs.

Most of the fiscal news this year is expected. The wildcard, however, will come from the state, which has seen its projected $9 billion deficit balloon to $16 billion, Buckshi said, largely due to overly optimistic revenue projections.

Legislators have until June 15 to submit a fiscal plan or their pay will be withheld. Many expect lawmakers to shove over a budget by the deadline to collect their checks, but it likely won’t offer firm solutions and will probably be vetoed.

Locally, officials expect the state to hack at least $107,000 out of child support services, cut $300,000 to $600,000 out of mental health services, and extend major cuts to local welfare services through CalWORKS.

The state’s fiscal kiss off could vary, depending on Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax hikes, which voters will decide in November. SLO County is also weathering an influx of inmates into county jails through the state realignment process. Though the state has pledged money to help counties, some officials worry what could happen if that financing is lost.

Supervisor Bruce Gibson said he believes Brown is committed to protecting counties in regard to realignment, but “the Legislature, on the other hand, is very much the wild card here.”

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