The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 23 adopted the 2015-16 budget, which reflects the community’s priorities by enhancing public safety and making other sustainable investments in increased services.
The adopted budget totals just over $319 million. This budget is an increase of roughly $13.4 million, which is due mostly to $8.9 million in public safety expenses funded by Measure Z. The General Fund, which contains the county’s discretionary dollars, is set at $115.2 million. General Fund estimated revenues, however, are only $112.2 million.
While county revenues outside of Measure Z experienced modest growth this year, the county will draw on its savings in order to balance the budget.
“We are beginning to feel economic recovery in Humboldt County, but we continue to face hard choices among many worthy needs,” said Chair of the Board and Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell. “We thank the community for understanding our financial situation and supporting Measure Z. We are proud to remain committed to using Measure Z funds for their intended purpose, and we hope Humboldt County is a safer place and a better place to live because of it.”
Highlights from the budget include:
Improving safety in our communities: Citizens passed Measure Z, a half-cent sales tax, in November to increase public safety, and this budget makes substantial investments in that area. By preserving these funds for their intended use, this budget funds 65 additional public safety positions. Some of the most significant proposals the Board will fund include the following:
•$3.15 million to the Sheriff’s Office for 30 positions
•$2.2 million for rural fire protection
•$1.35 million for 11 positions in the District Attorney’s Office
•$602,000 for six positions in the Probation Department
•$573,000 for road repairs and other Public Works safety projects
•$400,000 for two Eureka Police Department officers, equipment and homeless support services
•$267,000 for rural ambulance service
•$125,000 for one Fortuna Police Department officer
•$35,000 for Rio Dell code enforcement support
•$125,000 for a code enforcement position in County Counsel
Protecting our water: The budget allocates $30,000 for a water rights attorney to help the Bureau of Reclamation in releasing water to Humboldt County as provided for in the 1955 Trinity River Division Authorization Act. An additional $15,000 will be used to leverage more than $37,000 for a new environmental analyst position that would provide technical assistance for the Klamath Basin.
Investing in efficiencies: The budget allocates $95,000 to begin to centralize public safety services by moving Victim-Witness staff and the Child Abuse Services Team to the fifth floor of the Humboldt County Courthouse, one floor above the rest of the District Attorney’s Office. In addition, the Elections Office, which was previously slated to move to the fifth floor, will move their staff and elections equipment to a facility in central Eureka. This move will make this office more easily accessed by the public and media, especially during elections, and will allow for easier transport of elections equipment to polling stations.
Maintaining Probation services: The budget allocates $575,000 for the Probation Department to make up for lost state and federal funding. This funding will be used to avoid situations where juvenile offenders are removed from the home and placed in foster care, and maintain current levels of community supervision services.
Reserve levels are low: The Board’s policy calls for the county’s General Reserve to be between 8 and 10 percent of the total General Fund revenues, or $8.9 million. However, the county’s current General Reserve balance is only $1.17 million. This budget contributes $400,000 to the General Reserve. Per policy, General Fund contingencies should be $6.7 million, but are currently $1.24 million.
Doing more to enhance public safety: The Measure Z Citizens Advisory Committee, which recommended to the Board projects to be funded from the new sales tax, reviewed 45 proposals from local agencies seeking funds for public safety projects. The committee recommended several projects to be funded, and requested that the Board consider funding other projects if revenues from Measure Z came in higher than expected. The Board will get more information at the mid-year budget review in February.
Addressing the deficit: New costs for FY 2015-16 are leading to a budget with a deficit of more than $3 million in the General Fund. Rather than calling for a round of service reductions, this budget addresses the community’s needs. However, this remains an unsustainable budget picture and county staff will continue to work to address it – including tackling rising retirement costs.