County receives lean budget

In they came, hats in hand, arguments polished and with undiminished enthusiasm.

They were the department heads of Mono County, who this past week engaged the Board of Supervisors in two days of intense jawboning over a $63.2 million 2013-14 budget that new Mono County Administrator Jim Leddy handed up.

It was the first time the board had seen the proposed final budget document. Previous to the opening of the budget hearings, which began on Tuesday, Aug. 12, the supervisors had been working under an interim budget that began on July 1.

The drop-dead deadline for approving a budget is in October, but the board and Leddy said they are shooting for a Sept. 3 vote on the final document.

From now until then, the supervisors will weigh what they heard from the department heads this past week, along with recommendations from Leddy.

It is what Leddy called a “conservative and realistic” budget that is to serve as a template for policy decisions over the next five years.

“The budget is the most important document you can do,” he said in opening remarks at the supervisors’ chambers in Bridgeport.

“It guides not just what you’re going to do in the first year, but also looking forward, it sets the tone. It understands what our resources are and what our service levels can be.

“There were a lot of hours behind the scenes on this. The public sees these moments here today, but there’s 10 times that much coming into it.

“We worked as fast as we could to bring you a responsible document.

“Ultimately, I would characterize it as a bridge between the way the county used to conduct business to the way we have to conduct business—looking at the strategic planning that the board has articulated, looking at the big, unmet liabilities, and do it while providing the services that are the foundation for the quality of life in Mono County.”

In presenting the budget, Leddy made his first big imprint as the county’s CAO.

He minced no words in outlining the economic uncertainties of the coming year, or of the upcoming years.

“We looked for every piece of data to try to be good predictors of what’s going to happen,” he said.

“We’re hearing a lot of anecdotal stories—that things are doing better, that we’re seeing more tourists—but we really don’t have that five-year projection.

“We want to build by next year the capacity to do that within our staff, to look forward and say, ‘Look, this is where we’re going, this is what we can realistically [and] conservatively expect, so you can do the long-term planning that the public hopes that you do.”

Within that context, the department heads came, starting with Sheriff Ralph Obenberger, followed by District Attorney Tim Kendall, and so on, down the list.

No one asked for a cut in his or her departments.

Practically all of them pleaded for more money, more people, and more support.

Now is the time for the tough decisions by the five-member board, and Leddy cautioned the supervisors to pay close attention to what is happening elsewhere, and not just in the Mono bubble.

“We follow Southern California,” he said, “Southern California recreates in Mono County. If they’re going to buy a second home here and they’re going to help us with our main discretionary income source, which is property tax, we need L.A. and San Diego to be really booming and they’re not quite there yet.

“Are we finding the floor? Are we declining? We can’t really tell you at this point. We’ll see where we are at mid-year, and the third quarter and next year, so we’re very cautious looking forward.”