Inyo County is still operating under a cloud of fiscal uncertainty due to state budget concerns, but county department heads continue to tighten their belts and, in most cases, live within their means.
In his annual mid-year budget update, County Administrator Kevin Carunchio said the local government has reason to be proud, but also plenty of reasons to worry.
According to Carunchio, county department heads have held to their mid-year projections without going over budget, but state budget issues may still have an impact.
“I’m very worried about what the state might do,” Carunchio told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. “We haven’t had to do any layoffs or dramatically curtail services, which is something to be proud of.” He added that, statewide, counties have laid off an average of 25 percent of their staff.
Despite departmental budgets remaining on track, to keep the county budget balanced, Carunchio said the county will be relying on a greater use of General Fund contingencies. In past budgets, he said, the county saw tens of thousands of dollars coming out of the contingencies fund. This year, he said the county can expect to pull $190,000 from contingencies.
The use of General Fund money can be attributed to what Carunchio calls a “code of silence” surrounding some sources of state revenue.
Inyo County relies on approximately $12.9 million in state money, and has received $5.7 million to date.
“I expect to get most of that money from the state, but it is a liability,” Carunchio said.
The two grant programs Carunchio said he is watching closely are the Statutory Rape Vertical Prosecution and the California Multi-jurisdictional Methamphetamine Enforcement Team grants, which total about $219,800 each year for the county.
“Those grants help offset personnel costs for the District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Department,” Carunchio said. “Right now we’re spending that money without any revenue coming in because the grant application periods haven’t even opened.”
To ensure the county does not require more General Fund money to keep the budget balanced, Carunchio advised all department heads to “stay keenly abreast of developments in Sacramento that can impact revenue projections for the fiscal year and proactively analyze the impact that such developments and realignment may or will have on their budgets and ability to provide services.”
Carunchio also said the county has several outstanding issues that may impact this year’s budget. He said that repairs on the Tecopa Sewer Lagoon were halted due to rain last week, the cost of capital projects continue to rise while funding remains stagnant or decreases and “like a Duncan yo-yo, the Yucca Mountain Project is always down again and up again.”
Despite the state’s budget crisis trickling down to the county level, there are some rays of light shining on Inyo County.
Carunchio pointed out that the county recently paid off its financing for the “new” Inyo County Jail facility on Clay Street and is now collecting geothermal royalties.
He also said that the countywide transient occupancy tax remains strong, with a projected revenue exceeding last year’s numbers by $85,000.
To keep this year’s budget under control, the Board of Supervisors reaffirmed certain budget control policies, such as minimizing purchases and travel where possible and maintaining the county’s authorized position review process. Rather than calling it a hiring freeze, Carunchio described this review process as a “hiring slushy,” which requires board approval for all new hires.
County leaders also advised all department heads to give the Board of Supervisors advanced written notification of any possible revenue losses, so the budget officer can prepare budget amendments and prevent overspending.