A new fiscal year brings a new county budget, and the process of allocating Josephine County’s limited resources has provided the Board of County Commissioners with the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are when they say they will peck and claw for every penny they can find to keep law enforcement services at adequate levels.
With the Law Enforcement Fund getting a transfer of nearly $10 million from the county’s general fund – amounting to half of the current fiscal year’s revenue – other departments reliant on the general fund are facing significant funding cuts. Over the budgeting process, these departments have been afforded the opportunity to make their cases for holding onto funding, distinguishing what services are mandated by law and which are useful but not strictly required.
Here are details on how budget cuts will impact county departments, according to reports composed by department heads and Novak’s projections:
A major concern with the 23/24 proposed budget as it was presented by JoCo Finance Director Sandy Novak at the Budget Committee’s first meeting April 18 was the fact that the general fund balance would be reduced to below the annual property tax proceeds.
In her budget message, Novak wrote, “The Proposed Budget requests a spending appropriation of approximately $5.2 million in general fund support on general fund departments (assessor, clerk, treasurer, etc.), a 14% increase more due to department specific revenue projections being down and a 10.3% increase in the cost of providing the same level of service.”
To avoid the general fund balance being reduced to this level, Novak explained, “The total General Fund ask was initially $15.2m and we would need to reduce it by $1m to remain within current year resources or $2m to ensure we had sufficient fund balance to operate until current year taxes were collected ($5.2m).”
The Finance Department devised three scenarios for the budget committee to consider in order to preserve the needed general fund balance:
-Scenario 1: Reduce all general fund asks so that ending unappropriated fund balance would be greater than predicted property tax revenue (collected in November); Would require that the general fund ask be reduced by 13.2% .
-Scenario 2: Move general government to ISF and increase the ISF rate to cover those expenses, then reduce so that ending unappropriated fund balance would be greater than projected property tax revenue.
-Scenario 3: Cut $2,147,500 strategically in specific department reductions. Of these cuts, $994,000 will rely on Board of County Commissioners to determine whether these cuts are sustainable or not; $469,000 are one-time cuts and thus are not sustainable; and $595,500 are sustainable over at least three years.
Novak’s recommendation was for the budget committee to sign off on Scenario 3.
Every director of a department with general fund requests was invited to present before the budget committee and was asked to answer three questions:
How are your services “mandated”? What is funded mandate and what is unfunded?
Are your fees and charges sufficient to cover the cost of the services provided when allowed?
What consequences would a reduction of general fund support have on your operations and revenue streams?
The following departments delivered reports to this effect: Sheriff’s Office; District Attorney’s Office; Recreation; Community Development; Forestry; Clerk; Assessor; Public Health; Court Facilities; Emergency Management; General Government; Juvenile Justice; Treasury; Veterans’ Services; and Surveyor.
At the end of their Tuesday, May 9 meeting, the Josephine County Budget Committee – consisting of Commissioners Herman Baertschiger, Dan DeYoung and John West in addition to Dan Mancuso, Nathan Sieble, Chris Rossetta and Jacob Brumbach – unanimously approved the 2023/24 proposed budget with the revision of Novak’s Scenario 3 spending reductions.
The one omission, after a motion by Budget Committee Chair Herman Baertschiger, was to preserve the $88,400 that was proposed to be stripped from the Assessor’s Office. The cuts would have been achieved by removing the office manager position ($69,121 in savings) and scaling back the title examiner work hours from 30 to 20 hours per week ($19,310 in savings).
According to JoCo Assessor Connie Roach, this would have resulted in, “Reduced customer service. Specifically, delays in answering phones, assisting customers at window, increase processing/wait times for various applications such as Veteran’s Exemptions and Senior/Disabled Citizen Deferral and the processing of Manufactured Home Ownership transactions.”
A key part of Scenario 3 that will result in a $654,500 general fund spending reduction was outlined by Novak as, “Reduce the General Fund Contingency from 15% to 8%. General Fund Contingency covers any emergency that may occur during the year allowing for Commissioners to access unbudgeted funds quickly. Most likely needs for General Fund Contingency are a natural disaster or public safety emergency that does not have other funding sources (example a forest fire that does not reach FMAG level).”
The second and fourth-largest cost savings measures under Scenario 3 both relate to law enforcement . First, to save $269,000 depreciation on sheriff vehicles will be delayed by one year. Novak noted on this matter, “The proposed 1-year suspension of depreciation charges is manageable by slightly lengthening replacement time on some vehicles and continuing to work with the Sheriff on right-sizing their vehicle portfolio. County Fleet can navigate the loss of depreciation charges.”
With a $200,000 general fund savings, Title III funds will replace monies that would have come from the general fund to sponsor Search & Rescue.
The only remaining tactic under Scenario 3 that would result in over $200,000 in general fund savings is to, “Move the cost of the annual audit and postage from General Government to ISF relieving the General Fund.
“The Internal Service Fund (ISF) rate was not set high enough to cover this expense but can cover it without a rate change if ISF does not transfer funds to Facilities to cover Communications (radios and security cameras). Facilities has sufficient operating funds to cover this expense. Both the ISF and Facilities charges are charged to all departments. Future ISF rates will be calculated accordingly.” The audit and postage funding change would see $250,000 in general fund dollars preserved.
The remaining general fund cuts to complete the $2.1 mil in general fund reductions are as follows:
-$135,000: Remove unfilled Deputy DA from budget
-$120,600: Forestry will pay ISF fees from in house rather than drawing from GF
-$80,100: Juvenile Justice will draw from Forest Reserve rather than GF
-$72,600: Granite Hill Cemetery will forgo GF funding
-$75,000: Community Development made cuts that will allow half of ISF fees to be paid from in-house
-$41,100: Clerk will raise fees and reduce part-time position
-$35,500: Veterans’ Services will reduce outreach and send less personnel to national training
-$31,700: Emergency Management will swap GF draw with Title III funds
-$5,000: North Valley Industrial Park fees will be raised
After all the general fund departments had presented, the last discussion the Budget Committee needed to have regarded compensation for elected officials. Compensation Committee Chair Ken Beatty said they surveyed nine counties. Some elected official salaries in Josephine County are 5% less than those counties’ average compensation, and Beatty’s recommendation was to get the compensation within that 5%.
Addressing the commissioners, Beatty said, “You make the decisions on all of the salaries, including your own, which is always a hot potato when you think about it. In the past it has been. Maybe it isn’t. When people recognize that you don’t have any choice as a commissioner; it’s your job. It’s in the Charter, it’s in the state law. So you wind up making decisions on salaries for all of the elected officials.”
The Compensation Committee recommended a 2% salary for the commissioners, a one-year freeze on legal counsel Wally Hicks’ salary because he makes over 5% more than the nine counties’ average, and increase Sheriff Dave Daniel’s compensation by 4% July 1 and an additional 3% in January, as he makes 7.71% less than the nine counties’ average.
Budget committee member Mancuso made a motion to accept the Compensation Committee’s recommendation, with the exception of raising salaries for the commissioners and sheriff. Commissioner West seconded the motion.
“I just think increasing the sheriff’s pay at this time when they’re cutting patrols, when they’re cutting costs. I just, I don’t think the residents will swallow that,” Mancuso said, adding, “As for the board, I think it’s always poor form for the commissioners. You have people that are running that spend lots of thousands of dollars to get these jobs. I think they’re going to take it regardless of the pay.”
The Budget Committee unanimously voted to freeze the legal counsel compensation and not raise salaries for commissioners or the sheriff.