Opinion

Tuesday, Oct 01 2013 06:00 AM

Update on Kern County's budget

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Zack-Scrivner

After a summer of debate and deliberation, the Board of Supervisors approved the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-14 County Budget for a total $2.629 billion.

Some of the positive highlights of the 2013-14 budget include additional money in the Sheriff's budget for rural crime investigation. The new budget also adds three D.A. investigators to help police fraud in the In-Home Supportive Services program, and the Crime Lab received four new positions and equipment.

Another area of increased funding that I proposed to the Board is $250,000 for spay/neuter clinics to help control over-breeding among pets and stray animals in Kern County's communities.

We also approved the addition of two new positions to help Code Compliance ensure that home and business owners keep their property free of dead vegetation, junk, and refuse that pose health and safety issues.

In adopting the budget, the Board of Supervisors made a few adjustments to the initial proposal recommended by the County Administrative Office. We added more than $500,000 to enable the Library Department to add an extra day per week to its library branches and to hire an assistant for children's programs at the Ridgecrest library. We also added funding to community programs such as the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Bakersfield Museum of Art and the Arts Council of Kern County. I also requested and received funds in the budget to assist the Greater Antelope Valley Economic Alliance attract new business investment to Eastern Kern.

The challenges facing the county in the coming year include the need for some critical infrastructure updates, such as replacing the County's aging jail. Construction of a new county jail will require a nearly $4 million county cash match in FY 2013-14 under the State's AB 900 jail finance program. The county's share of the cost to build the new jail will ultimately be $22.5 million to match state financing of $100 million.

Pension costs continue to be an escalating challenge for the budget. The county currently has outstanding Pension Obligation Bonds totaling $369 million. The $50 million 2008 POB will transition from a low variable interest rate to a higher fixed rate, which increase the estimated annual cost of repaying this bond by $1.5 million in 2013-14. Furthermore, the actuarial report from the Retirement Association projects that the county must increase its retirement contribution by $21.6 M for FY 2014-15.

And Kern Medical Center's fiscal problems will continue to challenge the county budget. After a recent review of government receivables by an outside consultant, it is estimated that $36 million of the receivable balance is overstated and may result in a write-off of a portion of the General Fund loan and KMC may owe the state up to $27 million from overpayments. In addition, prospectively the hospital is anticipated to need additional General Fund contribution to operate that will reduce resources available to other departments such as Sheriff, Parks and Library.

In the face of the many challenges I have outlined, the Board of Supervisors continues to stay focused on four main goals in approving a county budget: the board will continue to provide valuable County services, set aside money for reserves, address deferred maintenance needs, and use one-time revenues for one-time costs, while of course taking care to be the most responsible custodians of your hard-earned tax dollars.

 

ZACK SCRIVNER represents the Tehachapi area on the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

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