By Deb Murphy
While some key revenue sources have increased and Inyo County’s budget should come close to balancing with a little help from a $3.5 million fund balance, Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio strongly urged the Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting to use this relative lull in the storm to address serious financial issues, including law enforcement costs growing three times faster than other county departments.
“Revenues tied to state indices are going up,” Carunchio said, “but they’re offset by locally calculated taxes.” Examples: corporate taxes levied on wires, pipelines, etc. crossing counties are up 27-percent, or a $146,000 increase for Inyo, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power taxes will rise 5.8 percent and California predicts increases in Transient Occupancy Taxes and sales tax. The drought impacted summer tourism positively with an extended season but the absence of snow in Mammoth reduced the stream of skiers up and down U.S. Hwy. 395 to a trickle.
“There’s no real growth here,” Carunchio said. “The ups were balanced by downs.” Example: the budget update was a timed item at Tuesday’s meeting, a meeting that started with a request from County Tax Collector Alisha McMurtrie to approve a partial payment on unsecured taxes for 2015-16 from CR Briggs Corporation, a gold mining operation near Trona. The company is downsizing their operation in the county and will downsize their tax payment to Inyo from more than $300,000 to $95,000. CR Briggs is the second largest tax payer in Inyo, behind Coso Geothermal which has also been dropping in assessed value over the last few years. Not a good omen for County coffers.
Despite all this, “the news is pretty good,” Carunchio said. The $50,177,000 in revenue falls short of the $54,188,000 in expenses but $3.5 million in fund balance will fill the gap, leaving $500,000 to cut from department budgets. With last year’s budget cuts still in place, additional cuts will be significantly closer to the bone.
“Last year, law enforcement costs were out of control,” Carunchio pointed out. “They’re growing three times faster than other departments, but crime’s not growing three times faster.” He indicated the Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney and Probation budgets each realized a 16-17 percent growth while “everything else grew by 4-percent. The Sheriff’s Department personnel costs were up $1 million from five years ago, he said. “It’s time to start planning for the future. We have to control costs of law enforcement to avoid cuts in the future.”
An afternoon workshop on the costs incurred by the county-run kitchens, providing meals for the jail, juvenile hall and the senior lunch program briefly looked like a program ripe for cutting, specifically the jail and juvenile hall programs. Budget Analyst Danielle Carrington presented figures and menus from the 2013-14 programs. With staffing and food costs included, jail meals averaged $8.45; juvenile hall, $13.90, compared to the costs of less than $1.50 in Sutter County facilities.
However, the bacon, eggs and hash brown breakfasts of two years ago have been downgraded to oatmeal this year, according to Sheriff Bill Lutze, whose department has already initiated cost savings in the county kitchens. Both Lutze and Probation Department Chief Jeff Thomson both indicated the county is not buying in bulk at the levels of other counties nor does Inyo have the storage systems to take advantage of bulk food purchases.