STOCKTON — Presenting what she described as a “very tight budget,” San Joaquin County Administrator Monica Nino publicly released a $1.75 billion spending plan Tuesday morning for the coming fiscal year that is not much larger than the county’s ominous $1.5 billion unfunded pension liability.
“We have more folks retiring, more folks drawing on retirement funds than people who are putting into it,” Nino told the Board of Supervisors, referring to the pension burden. “There is an imbalance.”
Speaking after Tuesday’s meeting, Nino acknowledged that the huge pension liability is a “large part” of the reason for the cautiousness of the county’s proposed budget.
“We need to remain flexible,” she said. “Any growth in the budget will have to go toward funding the pension system. I’m focused on keeping the budget structurally balanced.”
Nino said the $1.5 billion pension figure is as of Dec. 31, 2017, with the next updated figure to be calculated on the final day of 2018. She added that once the proposed 2018-19 budget is passed — which presumably will occur at the Supervisors’ meeting on June 26 — the county will have set aside $31.1 million in the past 18 months.
The county’s proposed 2018-19 fiscal-year budget, which will take effect July 1, is $112.7 million larger than the current, soon-to-expire spending plan.
Following are some of the budget highlights.
The Twin Tunnels fight
The proposed budget directs $730,000 toward the county’s ongoing effort to defeat Gov. Jerry Brown’s Twin Tunnels project. Expected expenses included legal fees, advocacy, responses to proposed legislation and public communication.
Parks are hurting
The county’s parks and recreation staffing would shrink under the proposed budget, from 59.5 positions to 45.5 positions, nearly 25 percent.
“Our park system is in crisis,” Mary Fuhs, a county park commissioner, told Supervisors. “The turnover of (Micke Grove) zoo managers and park administrators in the past six years is a clear red flag that those positions are being given a near impossible or entirely impossible task to care for our parks properly.”
Officials estimate that new ordinances regulating commercial cannabis cultivation and sales in unincorporated parts of San Joaquin County, as well as rules governing personal marijuana cultivation, will cost the county $7.2 million in 2018-19.
The proposed budget does not include funding for that cost, but the Board of Supervisors has put a cannabis business tax on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Some funding winners
Health Services is in line for an increase of nearly $100 million, to $745.7 million. The proposed budget for roads and facilities is $103.2 million, an increase of nearly $18 million. And the environmental protection budget may increase by $1.1 million, to $18 million. The proposed budget for law and justice is $346.1 million, an increase of $19.9 million. Of that sum, $2 million is for the establishment of the county’s new Medical Examiner’s Office.
Nino said the nation’s economic prosperity in recent years will not continue forever.
“We are keenly aware that a projected national recession may be looming and are making preparations to face the challenges still ahead of us,” she said.
The likelihood of an economic downturn, Nino said, coupled with the already existing pension liability, means the county must continue budgeting carefully.
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rphillipsblog.