County Passes $4.8 Billion 2014-15 Budget Amid State Cutbacks & Union Concessions

(June 19)  The board of supervisors on June 17 unanimously adopted a $4.8 billion balanced budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins on July 1.
“The budget is geared toward achieving the Countywide Vision, while reflecting the county’s ongoing struggle to cope with a deep economic downturn and dramatic and continuing increases in pension liabilities,” said county spokesman David Wert.
The coming year’s budget is $165.2 million smaller than the current budget and closes a $21 million gap between projected ongoing revenues and expenses without using reserves to cover ongoing expenses. The gap was fueled primarily by $12 million in federal and state takeaways and the need to come up with $9.7 million to cover the costs of AB 109 state prison realignment.
The budget fills the gap mainly through anticipated concessions from labor union members. Those concessions consisted of union members agreeing to pick up 7 percent of their retirement previously paid by the county, as well as accepting up to a 50 percent reduction in annual promotional increases.
“If for any reason those concessions do not materialize, the only alternative will be to make deep and drastic cuts to other county programs,” Wert said.
County Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux described his staff’s effort to bring the Board a responsibly balanced budget as “two steps forward, one and a half steps back.”
At the board of supervisors meeting at which the budget was ratified, Devereaux said, “Our employee groups to date, other than one exception, have all have ceded to that request and have entered into contracts. They helped maintain the services levels in this county from dropping to the point where we thought they would have jeopardized our underlying economy.”
The San Bernardino Public Employees Association, which represents 12,000 county employees, on May 29 tallied its members’ votes with regard to a contract previously submitted to the association by Devereaux. That contract at that point failed to gain ratification. Two days after the board’s vote to approve the budget, five association bargaining units approved Devereaux’s latest contract offer.  One unit, the Professional Unit, rejected the contract.
The association vote came during a period of unrest and agitation by the Service Employees International Union Local 721, which is seeking to decertify the San Bernardino Public Employees Association as the union representing San Bernardino County employees.
Wert said of the budget passed this week, “The economy has improved and revenues are slowly on the rise. However, it will take the county several more years to recover from the recession, which put the county behind in funding infrastructure, pensions, and basic services.”
Wert said the economic downturn forced the county to make 47-percent cuts in non-public safety services such as parks, museums, and Registrar of Voters; get many employees to agree to forgo raises and fund their share of retirement contributions; and eliminate funding for community projects.
Wert said some needs have gone unmet, including jail staffing, adequate law enforcement patrol and Code Enforcement in unincorporated areas, roads and other needed infrastructure, and funding for worn out vehicles and other equipment.
The budget leaves 84 percent of the recently built 1,392 High Desert Detention Center expansion unstaffed and unused.  The county did set aside $11.5 million  for maintaining 222 beds at the jail, while deferring  full staffing at the facility until 2019. The High Desert Detention Center will accept the major brunt of  the impact of the state’s prison realignment, which has rerouted thousands of what would otherwise have been prison-bound inmates into county jails
“Ideally, we would have been staffing that jail today. We need those jail cells today,” Devereaux said.
In addition, there are  $117.1 million in county assets, including vehicles, computers, and machinery that are now beyond their useful life and there is no funding to replace them.
The county did a severe round of belt-tightening, consisting of  a 50 percent cut to all non-public safety general fund departments and elimination of funding for community projects.
The budget manages to build up county reserves, but reserves will only be at 13.8 percent, which is well below the 20 percent mandated by county policy. Healthy reserves are essential to maintain the county’s good credit rating and are necessary to fund large projects and to cover unexpected expenses.
“When we have an earthquake we will need this pot of money available,” Devereaux said.

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