Nevada County braces for deeper cuts next year | SierraSun.com

Nevada County braces for deeper cuts next year

Jeff Pelline
Sun News Service

Nevada County’s budget is expected to remain intact when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs the state budget this morning, but local officials are bracing for deeper cuts next year.

Tens of thousands of unpaid state bills, including some headed to some nursing homes, day-care operators and others here, will begin being paid out this week once the budget is signed ” a record 88 days late.

No public ceremony will occur, reflecting the abject failure of the governor and lawmakers to reach promised reform, as many government officials and voters see it.

“Despite sufficient changes for the governor to sign the budget bill, the state did nothing to fix its structural deficit,” County Executive Officer Rick Haffey said Monday. “The state is planning to spend more than it takes in and is betting on things like the lottery to make it through the year.”

The county isn’t being asked to loan the state any money to help close the budget shortfall this year, but it could be asked to loan upwards of $1 million to $2 million in the 2009-2010 budget under Proposition 1A provisions, said Haffey.

The state would be required to pay the money back in three years. It could come at a time of declining rates of county property tax revenue, brought on by the prolonged economic slump.

Even this year, the county, along with others, did not escape unscathed.

Before he signs the deal, Schwarzenegger could cut an estimated $200 million to $500 million in items to balance the budget, and some of the last-minute cuts could trickle down to counties, said Deputy County Executive Officer Joe Christoffel.

The new budget, using a trailer bill, could allow the state controller to take loans from Proposition 10 and Proposition 63 for “cash flow purposes,” Christoffel said. Prop. 10 refers to a cigarette tax that is used to fund First 5 programs to help young children, while Prop. 63 refers to the mental health services act.

In one example, the state cut a program for mentally indigent criminal offenders and suggested that it be funded with money from the mental health services act and Medi-Cal, programs that largely target people who need help but are not criminals.

This puts counties in the awkward position of creating controversy if they shift the funds. Though many people support programs to rehabilitate jailed criminals, some question whether it should come at the expense of other mental health patients.

As for the Prop. 10 funds, “the (budget) language reflects First 5 California’s ongoing willingness to work with the governor and Legislature to ease the negative impact of the state’s fiscal crisis,” the group said from its head office in Sacramento. “However, First 5 must uphold its voter mandate to sustain critical services to the state’s youngest children and their families. We are not aware of any specific line items in the proposed budget with respect to First 5 funds.”

According to a memo from the Regional Council of Rural Counties sent out before the last-minute deal-making with Schwarzenegger, other highlights important to rural counties include:

– Rural sheriffs’ grants appear to be fully-funded.

– No imposition of state Department of Justice forensic lab use fees will occur ” a previous concern.

– The Williamson Act is funded to the originally proposed 90 percent level. It lets local governments enter into contracts with landowners to restrict land to agricultural or open-space use in return for lower property tax assessments.

“There will likely be a special election called in 2009 in order for the voters to act upon certain aspects of the lottery securitization issue, changes to Proposition 49 (after-school programs), and the budget reform package,” the memo said.

Christoffel cautioned that further cutbacks could occur, however, because of the additional reductions the governor could make, under the “blue line” process, before signing the bill. No major changes are expected, though.