The Kern County Board of Supervisors will attempt to grapple with a coronavirus-sized hole in its budget during Tuesday’s meeting. The supervisors are slated to approve a preliminary budget that leaves many departments with 7.5 percent in reductions.
A dramatic decrease in consumer spending leaves municipalities across the United States with less money than they anticipated for fiscal year 2020-21. The Public Safety and Vital Services Measure, which appeared on the ballot as Measure N, bolstered the city of Bakersfield’s budget, and allowed the City Council to avoid cuts. The city added 91 new positions in its $630 million budget, which was passed last week.
Kern County supervisors won’t be so lucky.
In an attempt to reduce spending, supervisors will consider a plan that cuts deep into the county library system and the District Attorney’s Office. Under the next year’s budget, only eight of the county’s 24 libraries would physically reopen and 22 deputy district attorney positions would be kept vacant. A total of 11 other positions at the DA’s Office would also not be filled.
The Fire Department, too, will be impacted under the proposed cuts. Financed through The Fire Fund, a revenue stream separate from the General Fund, the Fire Department has experienced a structural deficit that’s ranged from around $4 million to around $10 million over the last several years.
In an attempt to save $6.5 million annually, the Fire Department plans to staff only 574 of 620 positions, institute station closures and other rolling station brownouts as well as other operational changes.
But the cost-savings measures don’t end there. The department estimates it’s deferred $60 million in apparatus replacements, a cost that grows by $7 million each year, and has no plan to replace aging fire stations, some of which are more than 70 years old.
To address the ongoing budget shortfall, the county plans to shift the department’s property tax allocation, which is expected to increase The Fire Fund’s budget by $4 million each year. The county also plans to rethink how cities pay for its fire services.
The county’s $3 billion budget includes funds passed down by the state and federal government that pay for operations supervisors have little control over. The General Fund, which totals $809.6 million, funds services like the Sheriff’s Office and General Services, which are controlled directly by supervisors.
The federal CARES Act resulted in the county’s overall budget being $102.9 million more than the year before. The General Fund, however, is expected to operate at $29.8 million less than last year.
The county says local residents likely won’t notice a difference.
“Major services impacts have been largely mitigated through cooperative efforts of departments, reallocation of realignment resources from health to social services and some use of fund balance and reserves,” the county wrote in a memorandum attached to Tuesday’s agenda.
At $131.9 million, the Sheriff’s Office mostly maintains last year’s funding, and includes money for recruitment and training measures.
The county uses the preliminary budget as a placeholder until budget hearings can be completed in August. The next fiscal year begins in July, with the final budget being passed the month after.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, a public meeting on the budget will be held Aug. 3.