County Says Budget Woes May Get Worse

HAGGERTY SAYS COUNTY HAS BEEN AHEAD OF THE BUDGET CURVE; SAYS COUNTY IS IN GOOD SHAPE
By Steven Tavares

Alameda County officials attempted to shine a light on the region’s difficult budget process by illustrating the interconnectedness between it and the state and federal budgets, but it shifted between the degrees of damage the Great Recession has wrought upon the county.

The county’s economic forum Tuesday afternoon in Fremont ominously titled, “The Worst is Yet to Come,” owned up to the statement by painting a continuing dire budgetary landscape in the county. “We say this is the worst. I don’t know,” said Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. “It’s pretty bad. I still don’t believe this is the worst.” Even though the county has been successful in balancing its own budget despite perceived ineptness in Sacramento, he worries 2012 may be the worst after another round of adjustable-rate mortgages are set to increase and potential put even more troubled assets on the housing market.

At the same time, Haggerty also said the county has played a leading role in lessening the blow for its residents as opposed to other municipalities he believes have been far more profligate in their spending. “This county is not in bad shape. It’s bad because we’re reacting to the state and federal budget,” said Haggerty. “We were not reacting like some other counties who were spending like drunken sailors.”

Blaming the leaders in Sacramento for the trickled down of budget uncertainty has become common at all levels of local government. Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi says a majority of the county’s $2.2 billion budget is subject to the whims of state and federal government. Just over $502 million (26 percent) of the budget is left to discretionary spending at the county level, says Muranishi. Since 58 percent of that total is derived from property tax revenue, it is no mystery why the county and local cities are struggling to pay its bills.

Kai Mander, an analyst for the county administrator’s office, presented a succession of charts all detailing sharp declines in nearly sector of the budget. Median home values in Alameda County ending in December 2010 now stand at $347,000 after a high of $617,000 in July 2007. Over 6,000 homes last year were foreclosed and property tax assessment rolls have decreased for the past two years, says Mander, marking the only times the county tax roll has shown a decline in last 50 years. Specifically, assessed value of the Nummi/Tesla Motors property in Fremont may drop by $1 billion, according to Mander. That, in itself, encompasses 0.5 percent of the entire roll, he says.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget will likely cut county services to the bone, said Haggerty and county administrators. Proposed cuts to social services such as CalWorks, food stamps, in-home medical support services and general assistance will affect a rising swath of county residents, said Mander, where over 15 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. President Obama’s proposed $3.7 trillion budget released this week along with a competing Republican-backed resolution to cut $100 billion from the federal budget outside of defense spending will also affect state and local budget decisions, say county officials.

The supervisors in attendance, including Haggerty, Chan and Keith Carson, though, were mum on the controversial issue of cutting local redevelopment agencies as lightly detailed in Brown’s budget plan. When asked by a resident for the board’s stance on the subject, Haggerty said the Board of Supervisors do not have an official position. Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan stepped in and noted the county realizes the value of redevelopment dollars in providing help for affordable housing and public improvement projects, especially in its disparate unincorporated areas.

If a proposed state ballot initiative to extend current tax increases helping to combat the $26 billion state deficit fails, Mander said the county could face additional drastic cuts including cuts to K-3 class size reductions and public safety, which have not been subject to cuts in the proposal. In addition, a 90-unit cap on subsidized tuition for community college and university students could be in jeopardy along reduced funding for in-home services, stripping of aid to non-citizens, stricter income eligibility for welfare recipients and possibly requiring changes to the Three Strikes law allowing second and third violations for only offenders of serious crimes.

The county is aiming to begin budget work sessions starting April 5 with a proposed budget ready for discussion in early June. A budget for 2011-12, according to a county timeline, could be adopted as early as late June.

POLITICS HOMEGROWN eastbaycitizen.com

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