News Column

Sizeable 'carryover balance' to stave off many county cuts

July 17, 2014

By James Burger, The Bakersfield Californian

July 17--Once again, Kern County's end-of-year tally of accounts has saved the day.

Or, stated more precisely, it has saved the whole next year.

Assistant County Administrative Officer for Budget and Finance Nancy Lawson said the county ended the 2013-2014 fiscal year with $25 million in the bank and the assessor's office has estimated that property tax revenues will increase by $6.1 million over the next 12 months.

And, just like that, millions of dollars in cuts expected to create layoffs and service reductions across the county have disappeared.

Contentious debates about funding for the Kern County Sheriff's Office, District Attorney's office and other departments are over.

"For the most part we've got a balanced budget at this point," Lawson said.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood had argued passionately in June for $6.6 million he said was needed to prevent 23 department layoffs and keep the Ridgecrest jail and sheriff's substations in Rosedale, Boron, Glennville and Walker Basin open.

Now those layoffs and closures won't happen.

"We're going to be whole. We're not laying anybody off. The level of service is going to stay the same," he said.

Youngblood said he doesn't like standing up before the Kern County Board of Supervisors and arguing for millions of dollars in extra funding because he knows all the other department heads face cuts to their departments if he gets his request.

But the fight for staffing was critical, he said, because 19 of the 23 layoffs would have be sheriff's deputies.

"My biggest fear was we were going to have to take officers off patrol," Youngblood said.

Supervisor Leticia Perez said there are still some questions to be ironed out about some expenditures, most notably donations that nonprofit agencies have been asking for.

"The big stuff we were most worried about is taken care of," she said.

Lawson said the ongoing money from tax increases will fund ongoing staffing costs.

The one-time cash from the county budget "carry-over balance" will go, she said, to fund one-time costs like critical technology upgrades across the county, replacing old sheriff's patrol vehicles and updating the Kern County Elections voting systems.

This cash windfall is not a shocking occurrence.

Traditionally the county sees some level of savings at the end of the year as county departments hold positions open and strive to tighten belts.

That money, over the past few years, has been used to offset the impacts from the recession and slow recovery of the economy.

But Youngblood said the annual windfall is not guaranteed.

"We do not count on that money being there because one year it's not going to be," he said.


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Source: Bakersfield Californian, The (CA)

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