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County takes long look at budget now
March 26, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff
County supervisors today will take a preliminary look at its upcoming $1.75 billion budget, beginning the process of cuts and add-backs that will eventually come back for the June hearings and ultimately be adopted this fall.

The Board of Supervisors is following up on a budgeting schedule begun last year when it started earlier than the regular June timeline of looking at the recommended budget and making tweaks before the final adoption in September. The board then, as with now, thought getting an earlier jump on the figures gave it and department heads a better chance of rectifying any gaps and knowing exactly what they’re in for when the actual chopping block comes into play.

"The board often complained that by the time they saw the budget in June, that ship had already sailed,” said Budget Director Jim Saco.

Beginning Monday and following on Tuesday and Thursday, the board will hear individually from department heads on ways to make ends meet. Last year, they were each given a flat 15 percent cut target. This year instead, departments were told to maintain public services at current levels for the next fiscal year as much as possible while working on sustainable financial plans. Each presentation will include an overview of the services the department provides, the type of funding it receives, any major or emerging issues and proposals for cost savings or revenue generating.

Some departments will have specific changes, like the Health System due to the upcoming closure of Burlingame Long Term Care, but most of the focus is on countywide initiatives, Saco said.

One department establishing its own multi-year plan is the Coroner’s Office which proposes streamlining services and freeing up man hours by changing how it does business. Coroner Robert Foucrault said 2008 legislation now lets hospice cases with natural deaths avoid being sent to the office if a nurse has seen the patient within 20 days. Prior to that point, the law required a physician to have seen a patient. Roughly 500 hours of employee time could be freed up annually, Foucrault said.

A similar new process for well-documented traumatic deaths, such as a traumatic brain injury, in hospitals and medical facility will also free the Coroner’s Office from needing to transport the deceased. The office will still conduct an investigation and sign off on the death certificate.

"The office needed a business plan to increase efficiency and reduce costs. Every department has been asked by the county manager to find that and we’re doing our part,” Foucrault said.

Although the departments themselves are not being asked to propose reductions, state and federal funding shortfalls will also lead to some cutbacks unless the Board of Supervisors agree to dip into its reserves.

With the return of interim County Manager John Maltbie, the county has renewed its five-year plan to eliminate an ongoing structural deficit alongside its annual budgeting. With a combination of new revenue, services changes, negotiated labor savings and restructuring, Maltbie’s plan estimates even having a $6 million to $14 million surplus by the fifth year. To meet that goal, Maltbie’s budget assumes among other things that the county will implement the tax changes on the June ballot — an increase in transient occupancy tax and new taxes on parking and rental cars — and there will be no further state reductions.

The plans could also lead to layoffs if the board accepts budget proposals eliminating some vacant and filled positions. Workers facing pink slips will also be offered incentives like early retirement, voluntary separation, severance and placement help, according to Maltbie’s budget overview.


The Board of Supervisors meets Monday, March 26 and Tuesday, March 27 at Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center.


Michelle Durand can be reached by email: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.



Info box:

Budget hearing schedule

Monday, March 26

9 a.m.     Opening remarks

        Department of Public Works and Parks

        Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer

        Planning and Building Department

        Department of Housing

        Public Safety Communications

        District Attorney’s Office

1 p.m.     Sheriff’s Office

        Probation Department

        Coroner’s Office

        Fire Protection

        Controller

        Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder

        Treasurer-Tax Collector

Tuesday, March 27

9 a.m.     Information Services Department

        Department of Human Resources

        County Counsel

        County Manager/Clerk of the Board

        Board of Supervisors

        Health System

1 p.m.    Human Services Agency

        Department of Child Support Services

Thursday, March 29

9 a.m.     Closing remarks

        Public comment

        Direction from the Board of Supervisors


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