Marin supervisors approve $4.1 million in spending cuts

POSTED: 3/31/18

Author: Richard Halstead

Publication: Publication: Marin Independent Journal

The Mt. Tam Fire Crew hikes into a vegetation fire along Bugeia Lane in Novato in 2013. During budget hearings, the supervisors spent a significant amount of time talking about the devastating North Bay fires, and the increased demands on the Marin County Fire Department.


The county will cut its general fund budget by $3 million in fiscal 2018-19 and by an additional $1.1 million in fiscal 2019-20 in a bid to maintain a balanced budget despite a slowing in property tax growth.

County supervisors approved the spending cuts Wednesday after more than 12 hours of budget hearings over several days.

The supervisors, however, left the door open to several one-time spending initiatives next year. These include possible increased funding for the Marin Economic Forum, a program aimed at enticing more landlords into renting to holders of Section 8 housing vouchers, emergency preparedness and road maintenance.

“I am in support of funding the Marin Economic Forum at a sustainable level,” said Supervisor Judy Arnold. “Other similar counties support their economic development organizations with a much more robust funding source.”

During the hearings, the supervisors spent a significant amount of time talking about the devastating North Bay fires, and the increased demands on the Marin County Fire Department.

During his presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Marin County fire Chief Jason Weber said, “The impacts of climate change on California’s fire season are obviously a big deal. Our fire seasons are much longer than they were when I started 23 years ago. We’re seeing a need to start up in May, and we didn’t end this year until January.”

Weber said last year his department’s personnel spent 68,000 hours battling fires outside of Marin County.

No new money was allocated to the fire department, but County Administrator Matthew Hymel said the county would probably spend some amount of money to conduct a study this summer on the fire department’s staffing needs.

Supervisor Arnold said, “As I see it you do have a staff shortage.”

Arnold said she would like the Board of Supervisors to consider adding two members to the fire department’s staff until it has the 15 additional firefighters needed to have three firefighters on each engine. Supervisor Damon Connolly also expressed support for such a staffing increase.

County budget analysts projected that without the budget cuts the county would have a deficit of $4.5 million in fiscal 2018-19 and $5.6 million in fiscal 2019-20. Part of that shortfall was made up last year when the county closed its medical and dental clinics and transferred the patient care services to Marin Community Clinics. The closures resulted in a net ongoing savings to the general fund of $1.5 million.

Even with the approved spending cuts and the closure of the clinics, the county will need to come up with an additional $1.1 million in spending cuts or revenue increases to avoid a deficit. County budget manager Bret Uppendahl said these cuts have been identified even though they weren’t discussed during the hearings.

The county is reacting to a slowing in property tax growth in Marin. Property tax accounts for more than 30 percent of its general fund revenue and is the source for nearly all discretionary spending for the county. Annual growth in property tax declined from 7.1 percent in fiscal 2015-16 to 5.3 percent in fiscal 2017-18, and annual growth in property tax revenue is expected to hover around 5 percent over the next five years.

Personnel costs account for nearly 70 percent of the county budget and have increased over the past five years due to cost of living adjustments, increased retiree liabilities and increased workers compensation costs. Nevertheless, the spending cuts approved Wednesday include no plans for layoffs.

Another reason spending cuts are necessary is the county plans to increase its annual spending on maintenance of countywide infrastructure by $2 million beginning next year. There is currently more than $150 million in deferred maintenance at county buildings, libraries, and parks.

During his presentation to supervisors, Ernest Klock, the county’s assistant director of public works, said if the county continues its current $13.5 million annual spending on road maintenance, it should be able to maintain roads at a pavement condition index (PCI) level of about 67.

The PCI is an overall rating of road conditions with a PCI score of 85-100 judged as excellent, 70-84 as good, 50-69 as at-risk, 25-49 as poor, and 0-24 as very poor. Klock said the county’s roads currently have $76 million in deferred maintenance.

“Even at current investment levels, we’re not climbing out of the hole,” Klock said.

Each of Marin’s departments will cut spending by at least 1 percent over the next two years. The county’s Health and Human Services department will take the largest cut over that period: $650,528. It is the department with the largest budget. The Marin County Sheriff’s Office took the second largest cut: $505,170.

During his presentation to the Board of Supervisors, Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle said his department, like the fire department, has its staffing challenges.

Doyle said even though his department employs 207 deputy sheriffs, “We average probably close to 100 overtime shifts a month when you take into consideration the people who are on disability, long-term illness and training. That needs to be mentioned because people don’t realize we don’t have everybody ready each day.”

The county’s Community Development Agency staff told supervisors their agency currently has 10 vacancies. They said unfilled positions affect the agency’s ability to process building permits in a timely fashion.

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