ALAMEDA COUNTY//BUDGET | A proposal to close an $80 million budget shortfall in Alameda County includes cuts to the safety net and one-time only savings from previous budget years. County employee will also receive a cost-of-living increase for the first time in five years.

The budget forecast was bolstered by increased sales tax revenues and a nearly 4 percent rise in assessed land value. Foreclosures are also down 44 percent, while the county’s median home values are up 30 percent. Unemployment in Alameda County, currently at 7 percent, has also dropped below the statewide average of 8.5 percent. However, many county residents are still hurting economically.

“At the same time,” says Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi, “caseloads of many of our categorical aid programs that provide safety net services to families, adults, and children are increasing and continue to be far above historic long-term levels.”

The county’s $2.7 billion 2013-14 Fiscal Year budget likely to be approved by the board June 28 includes $25.5 million in cuts to health care, $19.9 million to general government, $18.1 million to public protection and $16.7 million to public assistance. Despite the shortfall, the $80.2 million deficit is the lowest since the Great Recession began in 2008. Layered over the proposal cuts to close the county’s shortfall are one-time strategies representing 60 percent of cuts mostly in the form of net savings carried over from previous fiscal years.

Over $15 million of the cost savings in county health care, the largest percentage of cuts in the proposed budget, come from previous net savings. However, it also includes $1.1 million in reductions for indigent care at Alameda Health System, formerly the Alameda County Medical Center and support for community-based organizations. The elimination of 3.42 vacant FTEs is also proposed.

For net cost savings in public assistance, the proposed budget seeks to cutting 40 already vacant child welfare worker positions and $400,000 from projected caseload declines in adoptions and foster care. At the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, a $1.1 million reduction in discretionary operating costs generated costs savings to the budget. The department also added $2.6 million in revenue by contracting its services to outside agencies.

The county’s nearly 9,200 employees not only received wage increases, but also add 66 full-time equivalent jobs. The budget also maintains a pledge made last December by the Board of Supervisors to offer most county workers increased COLAs. The terms were previously negotiated into various employee labor contracts.

Although, the local economy is showing signs of great improvement and the county budget escaped crippling triple-digit shortfalls for the second consecutive fiscal year, there remains uncertainty, says Muranishi. A federal budget is yet still unresolved as Democrats and Republicans squabble over sequestration cuts. The proposed budget will also set aside $12 million into a discretionary funds to cover any changes stemming from uncertainties due to realignment, pending litigation and the Affordable Care Act, slated to ramp up implementation next January.

The Board of Supervisors will hold additional hearings June 25-26, 1:30 p.m. in chambers with final deliberations June 27 at 11:00 a.m. The budget is scheduled to be adopted June 28, 1 p.m.

Cross posted from East Bay Citizen
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