County of Kern Adminstrative Center.

The Kern County Administrative Office hopes to use unspent money from the previous fiscal year to help soften the financial blow that departments hit hard by coronavirus can expect going into fiscal year 2020-21.

In an updated budget recommendation presented to the Board of Supervisors over two meetings on Monday and Tuesday, the CAO’s Office said a fund balance of $45.7 million could be used to address some critical needs that went ignored in the original draft of this fiscal year’s budget.

The budget update comes as county officials account for unspent money from the previous fiscal year. In a perfect world, county departments would spend their allotted funds by the end of the budget period, Deputy County Administrative Officer Elsa Martinez told supervisors Tuesday. However, the county can use the extra resources this fiscal year to pay for items that were left out of the original budget.

Notably, the CAO’s Office recommends the county use $11.1 million to close a budget gap that developed after revenue from taxes plummeted after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We do that to not impact departments and services as much,” Martinez said during the meeting. “If we had to absorb $11.1 million, that would equate to another 7.5 percent reduction in general fund contribution to departments.”

Many county departments have already been asked to accept a 7.5 percent reduction in funds going into this fiscal year. While the added $45.7 million carryover from last fiscal year allows the county to avoid a staggering 15 percent funding reduction, supervisors will need to address the deficit moving forward, as it represents an ongoing cost the county is using one-time dollars to pay for.

In addition to filling the budget gap, the county plans to use the carryover to pay for a backlog of equipment needs in the Kern County Fire Department and several critical Kern County Sheriff’s Office needs.

The budget allows the Sheriff’s Office to purchase 65 new vehicles and provides funding for cannabis enforcement operations and forensic science capital purchases. The Fire Department is scheduled to use $10 million to purchase 23 new fire engines and battalion chief vehicles, along with one bulldozer, in the next fiscal year.

“This is the largest investment by your board or any Board of Supervisors in capital equipment for the Fire Department in well over a decade,” Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop emphasized during the meeting.

He added that his office would work with the Fire Department on potential fire station closures this year to meet budget needs, noting a final decision hadn't yet been made.

“My office is working directly with your fire chief on an effort to mitigate any need to do any station closures or any brownouts as part of this budget,” he said, noting he would report on those efforts later in August, when a final budget was brought before the board.

He also noted that no library throughout Kern County is scheduled for permanent closure. However, services have been altered due to COVID-19.

Supervisors made little comment during the meeting about the budget status. They'll get the chance to approve the final budget Aug. 25.