Mono County continues to search for budget solutions

mono_courthouse_10-08.jpgAll of the government agencies in Inyo-Mono have budget problems. The recession hurt revenue and continues to hurt. In Mammoth’s case it was also the big lawsuit pay-off. Problems common to all are drops in property taxes and other taxes. More than one local government has talked about a “structural deficit” that means ongoing budget shortfalls. Some of the governments have come together in Inyo County’s Service Redesign effort – all in search of ways for services to cost less.

In fact, Mono County Administrator Jim Leddy attended a recent Inyo Supervisors’ meeting when team leaders from the Service Redesign work offered their reports. News had earlier gone public that Mono County suffers from a structural deficit. As CAO Leddy put it, “Our expenses on an annual basis outpace our revenue.” Mono Supervisors took a sobering look at their budget in February and expect an update April 15th.

Mono County officials asked all departments to reduce their part of the General Fund by 5%. Leddy said that some did and some didn’t. The one-time savings did add up to nearly $740,000. The potential shortfall next fiscal year could reach $4.7 million. Leddy and others are taking steps now to reduce the gap. He said, “We will try not to reduce services or make lay-offs.”

The main problems for Mono County, as with other governments, is a drop in property taxes due to a negative real estate market, high labor costs, and health care and pension cost increases. State and federal mandates cost more and so do other things like fuel. The County’s reserve fund went from $6 million in 2008 to $1.7 million. There has been no real recovery from the hard recession.

Leddy said he and Finance Director Leslie Chapman are focused on this fiscal year and next fiscal year’s budget with regular check-ins. The next one will take place April 15th. Just as Inyo County, the City of Bishop and federal agencies here are doing, Mono County is “looking at services,” said Leddy, “and trying to re-invent how County government provides services.”

As for Inyo County’s Service Redesign work, Leddy said he and eight others teamed up to share service ideas. He said there may be some interfacing with Public Works to save money. Leddy said the meetings sparked ideas and Mono is doing some re-design for itself for the next 5 to 10 years.

Mono officials will negotiate with employees over potential unpaid time off, attrition on top of general service redesign. In February, Leddy and Chapman called on all employees to take three months to “build a new Mono County.”



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8 Responses to Mono County continues to search for budget solutions

  1. Money Man March 31, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    Cutting the Sheriff’s Deparment is where they will get the most bang for their buck. There is virtually no crime in Mono County. The Sheriff’s Department is at it’s highest staffing in recent memory. They are so bored, they have resorted to stopping people that are simply traveling through Mono County, for minor infractions to try and find small amounts of drugs. The problem is all the people they stop and have nothing illegal and they deputies do not find anything.

    Mammoth cut MLPD 40% and nobody died.

    What is really insane is Inyo County giving raises to employees that they have no way of funding without cutting services. This seems totally illogical.

  2. Desert Tortoise April 1, 2014 at 8:51 am #

    The usual instinct of elected legislative bodies when faced with a budgeting problem is to cut all budget activities equally some fixed percentage. i have never favored that approach because what happens is that every department and every activity sees a reduction in their ability to provide the public their service.

    I have always been an advocate of what is called zero based budgeting. Every activity in government has to be justified each year. Activities or departments are “racked and stacked”, in other words the are ordered in priority from most important to least important. Each budget item is fully funded in order of importance until there is no money left. The remaining activies are not funded.

    The reason I favor this is twofold. Number one, the activities the county, state or what have you feel are most important are fully funded and those activities can provide full service to the public. If all departments are cut 5%, 10% or what have you, then every aspect of public service is limping. With zero based budgeting, decisions are made about what is important and those activities are fully funded and provide full service to the public

    Second, it forces the elected legislative body, whether it is a state legislature, county board of supervisors or a city council, to think about what is important each year and determine their priorities for spending. Those are hard decisions that legislative bodies tend to avoid by taking the easy way out and cutting everything equally.

  3. MajorTom April 1, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    Local governments need to be able to raise more money. It does not make good sense to further tax people for being successful – income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes. So how to proceed? How about the state allowing local governments to impose carbon taxes. Say a 25 cent a gallon tax on gas, maybe a bit on other fuels. This would serve a positive goal of marginally helping reduce carbon pollution and allow tourists to pay a large portion of the taxes. Eighty percent of the income from the new taxes could be used to reduce local property and sales taxes. Twenty percent could go toward restoring much needed revenue for our local governments, where the most useful services are provided.

    • Reality Check April 1, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

      MajorTom, The people need more taxes like they meed a hole shot in their head. How about they lower taxes, downsize, and live within their means like the people have to do.

    • Desert Tortoise April 1, 2014 at 8:38 pm #

      Number one, fuel taxes are set by state and federal law. The distribution of fuel taxes to local and county governments is through a fiendishly complicated set of formulas based on income, road miles, population and several other factors. Counties are not permitted to add their own fuel taxes to the menu.

      Number two, everyone will just buy fuel in adjacent counties. For a 25 cent per gallon price differential I know I would. When I lived in San Diego, that kind of price differential sent people driving south to Tijuana gas stations near the border to fill up.

      • MajorTom April 2, 2014 at 11:20 am #

        It is correct that a county or city can’t impose a carbon tax (on gasoline or anything else) without authority to do so from the state. Seems like a legislative no-brainer to me. They would not be increasing taxes, only providing another option for hard-pressed local governments. Setting a tax level that won’t drive away buyers is quite possible, especially when your main competition is Mammoth. And the funds are sorely needed.

        Local governments are basically service providers. The way they have to tighten their belts is to eliminate services. Although there can usually be some efficiencies found at the margins, the idea that the same services can be provided for less money is something that politicians like to hear but that doesn’t work in reality. Tightening the belt translates into roads that are not repaired when they are washed out, elderly people who do not receive nourishment and company that they would not otherwise receive, less police patrols and more crime, less effective education to our children, burned out employees with insufficient supervision, and other ill effects.

        If you dislike government, then go after its income. That has been the agenda for three decades and it has resulted in decaying infrastructure, schools that only the rich or indebted can go to, great income disparities, loss of talent, etc., etc., etc. Government provides needed services and is the only entity that can solve a great many problems and through which we can all cooperate to improve our lives and our society.

        My point is we need to be smart. Let’s lower income taxes, lower property taxes, and lower sales taxes. We should not discourage people from making money, owning property, or buying and selling things. Let’s put taxes where they can do some good – discouraging people from putting carbon in the air and changing the climate and living conditions of earth.

        • Desert Tortoise April 2, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

          If you replace sales, income and property taxes with a carbon tax, how does this increase revenues available to cities and counties? It simply changes who is paying, placing more of the burden on drivers and relieving property owners of their tax burden. It replaces sales taxes on other goods with sales taxes on fuel. One has to question both the equity and efficacy of such a tax scheme. And if oil prices rise and fuel purchases decline, what happens to revenues?

          Also, consider that the tax burden of Californians in proportion to income is well within 1% of the national average. The myth that California is a high tax state is not born out by fact. The sales tax rate is high, but only real property is subject to sales taxes, and even then unprepared foods and most prescription drugs are exempt. Other states have a lower rate, but tax things like rent, labor and services, none of which are subject to sales taxes in California.

          Likewise property tax rates are lower than the national average, only 1% of assessed value. Counties and cities add another 1/4 to 1/2 percent to that. Texas, for example, starts at 2% of assessed value and most localities add another half a percent to this. Considering the cost of a house, even in Texas, this is a much heavier property tax burden than Californians bear.

          Same thing with income taxes. The top rates are high, but they are confined to the highest incomes. Low income workers pay little or no income tax. The result is that the overall tax burden in California is almost exactly the national mean, less than 1% greater.

          The distribution of that tax revenue is a topic that very much needs to be discussed at lenght in public.

  4. Charles O. Jones April 1, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Yes, times are tough all around.
    Perhaps the supes should follow TOML’s lead and vote themselves a 100+% raise.


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