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County begins budget talks

August 18, 2011

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors heard a budget update Tuesday as county staff begin looking at finances for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The board will be responsible for cutting, rejecting or approving a final budget later this year. Photo by Mike Gervais

Early in the 2011-12 budgeting process, Inyo County is looking at a $9 million deficit.
During a hearing Tuesday to review preliminary budget requests, County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio said most county departments were able to maintain budgets similar to last year’s numbers. Some departments, he said, are requesting larger budgets to fill positions that were left vacant last year to save money, and all departments are dealing with the rising cost of doing business.
On top of that, the county is looking at rising maintenance costs and capitol improvement projects that have been delayed “far too long,” Carunchio said.
Tuesday’s meeting served to update residents and the Board of Supervisors on where the county stands in the budgeting process and Carunchio stressed that all numbers are very preliminary and will change.
Currently the county budget team is in the process of reviewing each individual department budget to determine where to “trim off the fat,” and what expenditures are absolutely necessary.
The county is also facing budgetary uncertainties due to what Carunchio called the “chronic state budget crisis,” continued costs relating to two high-profile murder cases that will likely face appeals, and potential state funding cuts.
“If every (department budget) came in matching last year’s net costs, we could work with it,” Carunchio said.
He said that is an unlikely scenario, since last year, several departments refrained from filling vital positions in order to balance the budget. In all, 32 positions were not filled.
While many of those positions will remain vacant this year, Carunchio said some had to be filled.
The county is also facing a decrease in revenue in state vehicle licensing fees and a $200,000 reduction in property tax revenue from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
On the bright side, Carunchio said, the county is expecting to see an increase in Transient Occupancy, or hotel bed tax.
Carunchio also laid out a strategy to balance this year’s budget, and suggested a few long-term fixes to save future budgets.
As the budget team reviews individual department budget requests, Carunchio said the county expects to use some General Fund money to balance the numbers and utilize all the salary savings the county can afford.
He also said he will be recommending some budget reductions, “but usually there is not a lot of meat to cut from those bones.”
Last year, Carunchio recommended a total of $50,000 worth of reductions in the budget.
In the long-term, Carunchio said the county could consider auditing local hotels and motels to check for transient occupancy tax leakage and consider restructuring the way some county departments do business. He said that could result in changes or reductions in services and hours of operation.
As the budget process continues, county leaders will closely monitor the budgets of the Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s offices, as those budgets rely heavily on state grants that may or may not be cut at the state level.
The county will also be considering taking out a loan to pay for some capital improvements.
See Saturday’s edition of The Inyo Register for more information on those budget issues.

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