This year, the Inyo Supervisors approved employee raises that will cost $1.8 million more next fiscal year and $4.5 million more the following year. Officials made these decisions with no revenue to back it up. Now, the Board of Supervisors looks to a consultant for answers.
County Administrator Kevin Carunchio found a consultant with a long history in local government management and a method to look for what he calls “creative budget solutions.” Carunchio introduced Dr. Frank Benest and said he would conduct workshops with department heads and other agencies on Wednesday. Carunchio pointed to the millions in budget shortfalls and said there will not be tax revenue increases to close the gap. He said, “This is the staggering face of reality.”
Carunchio told the Board that Inyo County has long had a “structural deficit” and had balanced its budgets from money left over from the previous year. He called it a “manageable structural deficit.” Carunchio said when you add on the $1.8 million and $4.5 million shortfalls, “It’s insurmountable. The picture is not real pretty,” he said.
That’s when he introduced Frank Benest who spoke about “service re-design” to deal with budget problems. He advised the Board to “get out in front of service cutbacks. This can have terrible consequences.” He also said that “Cutting at the margins is not enough to forestall economic meltdown.”
Benest proceeded to explain that through collaborations and creative thinking, Inyo County and other agencies could “re-design services.” He said Inyo County has a lot of assets and needs to figure out how to leverage them with partners. Three members of the Bishop City Council attended the meeting. Councilman Dave Stottlemyre said Inyo County is not the only one with structural deficits. He said it’s happening nationwide, and the Bishop City Council now holds budget meetings every month. He said Bishop is willing to collaborate with Inyo County.
Benest said Inyo already has some creative ideas like the Jail Work-Release Program. He said through workshops with department heads and other organizations, officials will come up with service re-designs and final proposals for early May. Benest said the goal is to save $1.5 million next fiscal year and $3 million the following year.
The three Supervisors present – Arcularius, Kingsley and Griffiths – said they support the process. Privately, a number of County employees say they feel like officials are putting the budget shortfall off on rank and file workers’ cost of living increase while people at the top enjoy recent and large pay raises. The fear of lay-offs looms large at the Inyo Courthouse.