What a year we’ve had in Tuolumne County. Together we’ve accomplished some big things, started other big things, and can anticipate even more big things ahead. This is a lengthy report with some good news and… well, some other news too.
First the good. I have found that I really enjoy serving as your supervisor. There is a tremendous sense of satisfaction in seeing things move forward and change for the better. I like the ever-increasing range of issues with which I am confronted (sometimes literally) and especially enjoy both making government more accessible and the relationship-building aspects of my responsibilities. There aren’t many things I do (or have done so far) that I dislike doing, although there are a couple – like the unfortunate task of privatizing TGH…
But suffice to say that all in all it was a pretty good year. I am in the process of developing my 2008 list– if you have suggestions, please let me know.
But now, the not so good news. As we look ahead to 2008, while I am excited about new opportunities before us, I am simultaneously concerned about recent developments.
When we made the decision to privatize TGH, it was with the intention of enduring two or three years of continued belt-tightening. Prudent stewardship and good planning on the part of CAO Craig Pedro caused us to forecast that within several years we would be able to put significant funds toward the things that you have told us are important: roads, public safety (more deputies and fire fighters), and other county services that have been too lean for too long.
Unfortunately, we are experiencing a national, state, and local downturn in the economy that threatens to get significantly worse before it gets much better. As a result, the Governor recently announced a potential shortfall of $14 billion next year and has told every state department to cut this year’s budget by 10%. This cannot help but impact the amount of money and services we receive from the state and put into running our own departments.
In addition, there is a strong legislative and gubernatorial campaign to provide health insurance to all Californians. On its face this is not a bad thing. But if you look at the potential raid of county coffers being proposed to help fund it ($1 billion statewide), if it passes we may have to cut general fund expenditures by perhaps $1 million to compensate.
Further, the already costly fix to the closed Jamestown landfill has failed and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has made threats about assessing stiff penalties. I hope there is not a link between the Governor’s mandated 10% state department budget cuts and some creative fundraising…
And while we had already scheduled neceRoadsssary repairs to the Francisco Building, we recently discovered it is structurally failing and haven’t gotten the estimate for that fix yet. It won’t likely be inexpensive.
Finally, Congress’ failure to renew the Secure Rural Schools Act stands to reduce our federal Roads funding next year (and in the future if Congress doesn’t renew it in 2008 or 09) by about $1 million (and the schools’ by $1.5 million). I could go on, but I think you get the gist of things.
So how will we handle these and similar challenges? We have already been sacrificing and now we will likely sacrifice some more. We will put some needed capital improvement projects on hold and we will not rebuild as quickly as hoped. That’s really rotten news. But there is a wee bright spot. Many cities and counties are in desperate straits. We’re going to get through it comparatively well.
We aren’t putting $9 million of our general fund into TGH anymore. Had we continued full services at TGH, our situation would have been far, far worse.
We have very little debt – even our recent conditional action to purchase the Gardella property (subject to environmental review) involves money that is already sitting in an account and can only be spent to buy property upon which to build new justice facilities. At worst, we can sit on the property until we get past these tough times and then pick back up where we left off.
We have been budgeting very conservatively over the last few years. We aren’t in the habit of counting on money we might not get so we didn’t over-estimate future revenues by much. We have a modest reserve to tide us over for awhile – hopefully enough to weather the current financial downturn.
Tuolumne County residents are both tough and compassionate. As a community, we dig down deep and help each other. This is our legacy and that and faith will get us through.
So what’s up for 2008?
Besides the disconcerting financial picture, we’ve got enough work to stay busy: the Board will develop and adopt a new set of goals and hopefully a strategic plan, as well. We’ll work on getting the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) on firm financial ground, decide the future of Groveland’s physical therapy program, continue working on alternatives for long term care and psychiatric services, restructure Behavioral Health services to bring them back “in house,” adjust to state budget reductions and adopt a balanced budget for 2008/09, continue environmental review of the Gardella property, monitor potential grant funding for capital improvement projects and program enhancements that our reduced general fund won’t pay for, work with community stakeholders to develop a vision for economic development, implement the results of our Community Development Department process review, begin management audits, negotiate a pass-through of Sonora Redevelopment Agency housing trust fund monies to hire an affordable housing program advocate, get ready to sell rock from the Jamestown Mine when the economy improves, implement an illegal dumping ordinance and enforcement program, close the landfill once and for all, work toward expansion of broadband, and more. Money will be tight, but we’ll keep moving ahead.
We will face challenges and it may get confusing to casual observers. Although there are budgetary expenditures we will continue to be required to fund (“mandated services”), there are some we do have control over (“discretionary services”). We may not be able to accomplish everything we’ve planned for this year. You may hear us debate expenditures that seem contradictory to what I told you above. You may hear us talk about spending money on things that you think could be better spent on other things. We have to do a very good job of letting you know clearly where the money comes from, if it is discretionary or designated to meet a mandate, and why we’re doing things.
To that end, I am working on a draft communications plan to present to the Board in January to keep you informed, answer questions, and seek your input.
So in closing, yes, I do love being your supervisor and yes, our funding challenges in the coming year(s) will be complicated, incredibly ill-timed, and unappreciated.
But I still see a Tuolumne County in which our children can choose to live, work, and recreate. I still see a future and a hope. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – together we can and together we will!