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Budget Gap in Alameda County Smaller than Last Year’s Shortfall

Alameda County officials announced an $88 million funding gap this year, which is down from last year's $138 million deficit.

Alameda County's $88 million budget shortfall may lead to some more cutbacks this fiscal year, county officials announced Wednesday.

Last , Alameda County faced a $138 million shortfall, causing the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to tighten the proverbial belt by eliminating 111 positions along with cutting programs in health care, public assistance and public protection.

Susan S. Muranishi, the Alameda County Administrator, says the prolonged recession ate into the county’s resources.

This year, with a smaller gap of $88 million projected as the county deficit, some tough decisions will have to be made in light of the deficit, according to Supervisor Keith Carson.

“This will require some very difficult decisions − decisions that no doubt
will further hamper our ability to deliver services that are very important to people in our community," he said.

"And we must do so knowing that another round of bad news may be heading our way.”

Muranishi said the budget gap reflects sluggish revenues linked to a slow economic recovery, costs associated with the state’s sweeping new “realignment” plan, growing employee health and retirement costs and other factors.

“After a prolonged recession that ate significantly into our resources, Alameda County continues to be squeezed by rapidly rising employee health and retirement costs, continued high demand for services and a
lackluster economy that undermines our chances for significant revenue growth,’’ Muranishi said, according to a press release.

The projected budget gap was released at a meeting of Alameda County’s Budget Workgroup, a committee of county-elected officials, department heads, community stakeholders (including labor, community-based organizations and the League of Women Voters) and concerned residents that meets regularly to help the county prepare its annual budget.

The county’s financial update comes as Governor Jerry Brown continues to seek
$10.3 billion in budget reductions that would inevitably widen Alameda County’s budget gap due to planned cuts in state programs administered by local governments, including welfare and child care programs for low-income families.

Carson, who chairs the Budget Workgroup, said the large budget gap means he and board colleagues will have some difficult decisions to make before July 1, the deadline by which the county must approve a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year.

But Carson said the budget gap likely does not tell the entire story: several pending factors could make further reductions to the county budget necessary in the coming months.

These factors include public safety realignment, which shifts the responsibility for low-level adult offenders and parole violators from the state to local government, and the uncertainty of sufficient revenue to support this new responsibility.

While Alameda County officials are coming to terms with the fact that realignment will cut off some substantial sources of revenue, ongoing
negotiations have left it far from clear how much the state plans to reimburse Alameda County and other local governments for the new duties they are taking on.

Carson said another factor is the fate of the governor's plan to ask voters in November to approve a series of tax increases to help the state close its own substantial budget shortfall – and prevent an even deeper series
of cuts to be passed on to local governments.

“Our first order of business will be to close what is a very substantial shortfall,’’ Carson said.

“This will require some very difficult decisions − decisions that no doubt will further hamper our ability to deliver services that are very important to people in our community. And we must do so knowing that another round of bad news may be heading our way.’’

Wednesday's meeting came after officials from county departments and agencies detailed their anticipated budgetary needs for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

These needs are based on each department or agency’s estimated costs to
maintain services at current levels.

The budget gap is a result of a comparison of those estimated budgetary needs and the anticipated levels of funding Alameda County expects to have in FY 2012-13.

County budget analysts were directed to begin the process of preparing a list of options for closing the budget gap that county supervisors can consider when working to develop a balanced FY 2012-13 county budget.

The board will hammer out the final details of the final county budget at a series of public budget hearings in late June.

Alameda County is scheduled to approve a final budget by July 1.

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