Placer supes wade through still-murky budget waters

Workshops Thursday, Friday tackle fine-tuning Placer County’s projected $790.1 million spending plan
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - A balanced $790.1 million spending plan was presented to the Placer County Board of Supervisors at a budget workshop on Thursday. But a cautiously optimistic staff presentation indicated that a spending blueprint they are considering could still hold some unpleasant revenue surprises. Supervisors learned during the first day of a two-day workshop on the budget that while the county is considered to be financially healthy, there are still potential problems in a regional economy described as “tip-toeing around the corner.” An overview, presented by county Finance and Budget Operations Manager Graham Knaus, said that board actions and county financial policies have mitigated many potential service and staffing impacts from a drop in revenue over the past five years during the economic downturn. Knaus said that revenue outlook is improving, despite continuing to be outpaced by cost pressures. But Knaus added it was still uncertain how strong any recovery is. “There are mixed signals on the underlying strength of the economy and how things appear to be moving,” Knaus said. That has resulted in a budget that balances the “tension” between available revenues and costs, he said. Supervisors will be voting in September on a final budget. The workshops Thursday and Friday are a yearly effort to take a detailed look at departmental budgets and concerns. Supervisor Jack Duran of Roseville indicated that while it was prudent to plan for flat or decreasing revenues, it was important to also look at what to do if an uptick in revenue occurs. “Are we also positioned to take advantage of opportunities?” he asked Knaus. Knaus responded that the county was, particularly because some departments had “blended services” to further provide services to county residents. But unemployment in Placer County continued to be a major indicator of a negative economic picture. Knaus said that unemployment was at 10 percent – up significantly from 6 percent four years ago. “That’s better than the state as a whole but still remains historically high,” Knaus said. Supervisor Jim Holmes said after the meeting that he observed during Thursday’s workshop that departments had reduced staff and increased workloads, while reorganizing offices to continue to provide core services. “We’re seeing signs of an upturn,” Holmes said. “But it depends on what day you read the paper. Placer County, in general, has always weathered downturns. In that area, we’ve been very fortunate.”