County supervisors get tutorial in ‘budget basics’

By From page A1 | January 18, 2013

“Spend conservatively, invest wisely and be flexible.” Thus, county Budget Officer Laura Schwartz introduced her annual “Budget Basics” presentation at Tuesday’s El Dorado County Board of Supervisors meeting. The three-part mantra was her way of explaining how the board should plan for the future.

Calling the budget “one of the most important tools this board has,” Schwartz went on to describe its role in establishing priorities and setting policies that affect the public, county departments and county employees. Funding nearly 2,000 employees and 250 programs, she called the county “a very complex business.”

The county’s overall budget for 2013 is approximately $572.88 million of which the Board of Supervisors has spending authority over a bit more than $92 million. That is the amount of discretionary funds the board generally may allocate as it sees fit. The balance of the larger budget is money that is tied to specific programs or services mandated by the state and/or federal government. Exhibiting a pie chart of the General Fund, Schwartz noted that the size of the pie generally remains constant, but individual slices may vary in size. The two largest slices typically represent Law and Justice at about 63 percent or $58.5 million and General Government at 26 percent or around $25 million.

Recent boards have maintained a “rainy day fund” of approximately 8 percent in cash reserves and contingency funds. That totals about $9.4 million and $4.6 million, respectively, she explained.

Other major revenues and expenses include the county’s Road Fund, $89 million, and a Special Revenue Fund of $87 million divided between Public Health, Mental Health and Community Services programs.

Budget forecasts are based on “a set of assumptions,” Schwartz explained, assumptions about sales tax and property tax revenues, general economic conditions and unknown or unforeseen circumstances. And she acknowledged that the county has “little control over revenues.” Assuming conditions remain roughly comparable to what they have been over the past few years, her data show a budget gap or deficit of approximately $12 million in the year 2017. That figure represents a “very conservative, worst-case scenario,” she said.

By law, public entities must show a balanced budget. Technically, and in its simplest terms, that means that every dollar in must show a dollar out or at least be accounted for. From another perspective, every dollar that is allocated or spent must show a dollar received from some revenue source. Money spent “over budget” must be made up from other elements of the overall budget.

Thus, if something like a rock slide or flooding causes a sudden and dramatic increase in costs for road repairs, the money would have to come from some other area of the budget, such as reserves or contingency funds or at worst a decrease in some other public services.

The county’s 2012-2013 final or adopted budget was completed and approved by the Board of Supervisors in September, and a mid-year review will be presented by the Chief Administrative Office next month. The complete, current budget is available for viewing on the El Dorado County Auditor-Controller’s Website. The Budget Basics slide presentation on the CAO’s Website is based on the “recommended budget” created last June, while the Auditor-Controller’s is the most up-to-date.

Contact Chris Daley at 530-344-5063 or [email protected] Follow @CDaleyMtDemo

Chris Daley

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