El Dorado County approves $605.4M budget | TahoeDailyTribune.com

El Dorado County approves $605.4M budget

Mackenzie Myers
Mountain Democrat

In a process that has historically taken the better part of a day, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors approved a county budget before lunchtime earlier this month.

Passed unanimously, the $605.4 million budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year is 6.4 percent more than the 2017-18 adopted budget, according to a presentation from Shawne Corley, assistant chief administrative officer.

The bulk of that increase comes from two major facility projects: a $1 million jail expansion and the new multimillion-dollar sheriff's office, the latter of which is funded by a United States Department of Agriculture loan. Though principal payments on the $57 million USDA loan don't begin until the 2020-21 fiscal year, the county will begin making interest payments next year.

The county also is looking to add some positions to its ranks, including state-funded staff in the Health and Human Services Department and four sheriff's deputies who will be locally funded, according to county Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton.

A homeless coordinator position is in the works as well, with an $82,000 contract in Health and Human Services. According to Ashton, various partners in the community such as Marshall Medical Center and the city of Placerville have made monetary commitments to the position.

Though public comment during the budget hearing was minimal, most of the comments focused on the need to properly address homelessness and showed support for the new coordinator position.

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Ron Sachs, who runs a volunteer-based homeless organization, asserted the county spends money to care for stray animals so he expects it to do the same for people.

"This is a moral issue," Sachs said. "I know you're going to have to make the judgment: Do I fix that pothole or do I help this human citizen … who went to school here, was born here, lives here and for whatever reason finds themselves at the bottom of our social system?"

Mike Harrell, a pastor at Foothills United Methodist Church in Rescue, said he felt the new position could benefit not just the homeless, but law enforcement, medical staff, businesspeople and recreational trail users.

"I do believe it's possible for us as a county to address homelessness in ways that are responsible ethically and morally, but also responsible economically," he told supervisors. "I believe this position is a significant step forward toward that goal."

Before the budget's approval, District 3 Supervisor Brian Veerkamp called for the budget's inclusion of a federal lobbyist, at a cost of $70,000. The lobbyist position was originally on a list of items to look at funding once the county knows how much of this year's budget will be left over for next year. Veerkamp expressed enthusiasm over adding it now, saying it could potentially bring more money to the county. The county's contingency money will be reduced to cover the costs and reevaluated in September.

Veerkamp also recommended adding a $5,000 payment to the Placerville Downtown Association at the organization's request, for expenses related to the Festival of Lights.

Looking ahead, the administrative office prepared a five-year projection. In terms of revenue coming in over the next few years, the county expects property tax accounts to increase by 5 percent and sales tax to increase by 2 percent.

In terms of expenses — given the jail expansion, public safety facility and impending increases to CalPERS payments — Corley said they are expecting a $3 million revenue shortfall for the 2020-21 fiscal year, a $4.4 million shortfall in 2021-22 and eventually a $5.9 million shortfall in 2022-23.

District 5 Supervisor Sue Novasel was quick to note that these were "big guesses" and later went on to say that predicting future shortfalls is a way of budgeting conservatively, as she experienced during 12 years on the Lake Tahoe Unified School District board.

"You want to be conservative and you know there's going to be some money out there that will help," Novasel said. "So I'm very comfortable even with that five-year analysis, realizing that'll be addressed properly."

District 4 Supervisor Michael Ranalli noted that while this budget hearing was low in controversy, the county still faces "heavy lifting."

Following the state fiscal schedule, the county will close its books in August and the budget will return to the board in September for official adoption.