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Thursday, June 10, 2021

By Chris Frost

Tri County Sentry


Ventura-- The Board of Supervisors, Tuesday, June 8, began the preliminary budget discussions for its general fund and other agencies.


Chief Executive Officer Mike Powers kicked off the discussion and said it's been a challenging year with Covid-19, and it's always a county priority to keep its fiscal house strong and in order.


"It allowed us to be nimble and rapid in our response," he said. 


Kay Mann from the CEO's office presented the item to the supervisors, and she said the county begins its budget process in January.


"It's been six months since we've started the process," she said. "We start with a calculation of our general fund forecast. Once we have the forecast, then we develop our general fund department net cost targets. In the timeframe of March and early April, we meet with all the departments, and we review their targets, and we refine the targets at that point in time."


This year, for the first time, she said the departments each made a budget presentation.


"We started that in April, and the departments made presentations on their budgets and the various services they provide and the reassignment of some of their staff as disaster service workers," she said. 


Powers interjected that he believes it's the first time he recalls that individual departments presented to the Board of Supervisors.


"I really appreciate your board's energy and investment of time in hearing those reports," he said. "It's given a good overview of all the extensive county services the departments provide. There is one department we won't get to yet, the county counsel's office."


Mann said in April, they presented the general fund target budget reports, and on May 18, they presented the county-wide rates and fees. 


"The budget is developed with the following guidelines," she said. "We used the priorities your board has established in the strategic plan. We then meet with departments then evaluate their needs in terms of funding and positions. We develop realistic revenue projections to make sure we have available ongoing funding for ongoing operations. We know our departments continue their efforts to reduce costs and capture all available revenue in order to meet their targets."


From there, she said they work with the departments to refine their target budgets.


"Our total county-wide preliminary budget appropriations or budgeted expenditures are at $2.6 billion," Mann said. "They're at about a four percent increase over the prior year adopted budget. In the general fund, the appropriations are about $1.2 billion, and it's also about a four percent increase from the prior year. The majority of the increase in the general fund is related to public health; they received a number of grants, so they can build on their existing infrastructure and enhance their ability to respond to future emergencies."


There was also a four percent increase in non-general funds, she said, and those increases are related to VCMC (Ventura County Medical Center), fire, and airport capital projects.


"In terms of the general fund, general-purpose revenues, we're at $465 million, a $17 million increase over the prior year," she said. 


Powers said budget assumptions include salary and benefit increases, as well as merit adjustments and retirement costs.


"We know that's a big part of any local government's budget, and we're pleased to report for the second year in a row, our employer contribution rate will actually be decreasing by 1.1 percent," he said. "Our funded ratio will be increasing to 89.6 percent. Another big part of overhead and our ability to deliver services is keeping our internal service rates are low, and I really commend GSA and ITSD for keeping those rates at 1.2 and 3.3 percent, as well as workers comp and liability rates from the risk management team."


Mann said the general purpose revenues are at $465 million, which is a $17 million increase from the prior year, and 90 percent of the general-purpose revenue is property-tax related.


"We have assumed in the fiscal 2022 budget an increase in assessed value of 3.5 percent," she said. "That represents about a $15 million increase, which is the majority of the $17 million increase in our general-purpose revenue.  Our RDA revenues are up by almost $4 million. Unfortunately, our interest earnings are down by almost 1.9 percent. It's fortunate because we were able to get a .15 interest on our trans, so it is a double-edged sword. Also, cost allocation revenues were down by a bit as well."


With public safety, Prop 172 revenues, she said they are at $78 million, which is an increase of $6 million, or an 8 percent increase over the current year projections.


"In terms of realignment revenues, we have budgeted a slight increase," she said. "Based on recent collections, it appears that the revenue situation is much improved. We will continue to monitor those revenues and come back to your board during the year."


Powers said he appreciates the local taxpayers.


"It would be understandable that our tax collection rate would drop during these challenging times, yet it stayed about the same, and it actually went up a little bit," he said. "It's remarkable, and that stability helps us keep our financial stability here at the county."


Mann said 53 percent of the county's budget is dedicated to health and human services, including VCMC, the Human Services Agency, behavioral health, and public health.


"Public safety represents about 19 percent, with fire at 9 percent and watershed protection and environmental balance at 9 percent," she said. "The general fund represents about half of the total county budget, VCMC is at about 25 percent, followed by fire protection, watershed protection, water, and sanitation."


Health and human services in the general fund stand at 42 percent, and administration of justice is at 39 percent.


"Salaries and benefits are at about 60 percent, and services and supplies are just a little over 23 percent," she said about general fund appropriations by expenditure type. "Then we have other charges, fixed assets, and contingencies. The total general fund appropriations are $1.24 billion or half of our total county-wide budget."


Mann said intergovernmental revenue is the majority of the county's revenue source, which represents all the revenue from the state and federal government, including grants and realignment revenues.


"Our assessed valuation trend increase is estimated at 3.5 percent," she said. "It's been growing very steadily."


This story will continue, June 25.