In a lengthy Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, county department heads pleaded their case for their specific programs as the 2010-11 budget process moves forward.

In a lengthy Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning, county department heads pleaded their case for their specific programs as the 2010-11 budget process moves forward.

Chairman of the Board Ray Watson explained that if every item on a six-page list of “non mission-critical” programs was agreed to be cut by department heads and approved by the board, the estimated $37 million deficit would be cut only to about $6 or $7 million.
County Administrative Officer John Nilon explained that the county’s draft budget, which is to be released Thursday, is required be law to be balanced.

The county budget hearings will be held June 9 and 10, according to Nilon.

The purpose of Tuesday’s budget discussion was to determine which programs are not essential to county operations, even though they may provide a valuable service to the community.

“The intent is not to indicate that these programs are not functioning effectively,” Nilon said.

If the budget gap is not balanced, Watson said, the board would have to consider an across the board pro rata cut to all departments.
The chairman asked department heads to keep their comments brief and focused on impacts to the community, not necessarily to departmental operation.

“What is going to be the impact to the public?” he asked.

Supervisor Jon McQuiston questioned what exactly a “non mission-critical” program was.

“From my perspective, it’s much easier to try to understand the nature of what we’re dealing with if we know what programs are mandated by statute, and to what extent,” he said. “I don’t want to budget without thinking.”

Nilon reiterated that no specific cuts would be made at the meeting.

“We’re not intending today to be a day where we eliminate non mission-critical programs,” he said. “Mission critical is in the eye of the beholder.”

Watson mentioned that responsibility falls to the department heads to make the savings happen.

“It’s pretty obvious we rely on the departments to do the best they can,” he said. “Absent you doing that we’re going to be making some arbitrary decisions and we’ll be making more pro rata decisions across the board.”

Highlights of department presentations:
Special Services were among those on the non mission-critical list. These include payments to the Kern Economic Development Corporation, the Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program, and the Southwest Defense Alliance, which supports military missions at bases in Kern County such as the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake and Edwards Air Force Base.

Supervisors were interested in saving these programs if at all possible, but recognized the budget constraints.

“We save three or four dollars for every dollar we spend with CASA,” said Supervisor Mike Maggard. “Some components we would be well served to continue.”

“Every one of these items has to remain on the table,” said Supervisor Don Maben. “If CASA saves us money, prove it.”
McQuiston said he would withhold comment on these items until the budget hearings begin.

County grand jury foreman John Mainland was concerned about a proposal that would move his department’s clerical work to the County Counsel’s office, resulting in the elimination of a position. County Counsel Theresa Goldner explained that he was comfortable with the plan, except in cases where a conflict of interest exists. Those cases, Goldner said, could be referred to the Superior Court for clerical work.

District Attorney Ed Jagels was concerned about the closure or reduction in funding to his department’s crime lab.
“The crime lab’s function could not be more critical to law enforcement in this county,” Jagels said.

Jagels said he assumed, as did the CAO’s office, that the county could always use the state’s crime lab in Fresno for forensic work if necessary, but after a discussion with that lab’s director, he learned that the state has no obligation to take on these cases.

Maggard asked if the county could pass the cost of forensic services performed at the crime lab onto the individual cities in Kern County. Jagels replied that the budgets at the city levels in Kern County don’t allow for this passdown, with the exception of possibly the City of Bakersfield. The district attorney added that he didn’t consider it fair for Bakersfield alone to be charged for services while other cities were not.

Supervisor Michael Rubio said he believes county subsidizing of municipal work needs to stop. He used the example of San Mateo County as a county government that passes costs on. Jagels countered by saying that San Mateo County is the richest county in the state per capita and has cities that can absorb this cost.

Rubio also questioned an over $750,000 lease for the crime lab facility and asked if it could be renegotiated. County staff will look into the matter. Supervisors expressed their desire if possible to keep the crime lab going.

“The crime lab convicts the guilty but also clears the innocent,” Maben said.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood was “surprised” to find some sheriff’s programs on the list of potential cuts. He explained to the board in previous budget discussions that the ability to sell some jail/prison space to the federal government should be able to close some of the gap, but that negotiations were ongoing.

“If we don’t have a tentative agreement, all bets are off,” Youngblood said.

Watson asked about the sheriff’s reserve program and its effectiveness. The sheriff explained that sheriff’s reservists are used by other county departments to perform duties usually performed by regular deputies.

Therefore the reserve program provides savings to the county, Youngblood said.

The sheriff was also concerned about the loss of his department’s helicopter, which would save a million dollars.
“It’s an integral part of what we do, it’s equally as important as the firearm on our hip,” Youngblood said of the helicopter.

Library head Dianne Duquette said a proposal to close all metro Bakersfield branches except two was a critical blow to her department, and would not be a substantial savings to the county because of storage costs, utility costs that would still be incurred, etc. Also, she explained that the libraries in Bakersfield would be unable to handle the increased traffic.

In interdepartmental decisions, the board discussed Nilon’s recommendation for an across-the-board travel reduction, saving the county $250,000.

Watson asked if the board had considered requiring CAO or board approval for any out-of-county travel, and if not, why not. He said he considers it a good idea for training or any non-mandatory travel. Nilon was asked to draft a policy on this matter.

Other action items:
In other business, the county approved the deletion of 31 positions in the Department of Human Services, Parks and Recreation Department, Assessor-Recorder’s office, and Agriculture and Measurement Standards Department, resulting in a total of 27 layoffs.
Supervisors made it clear that these deletions were not final and were contingent on the final budget outcome.