County must make up $111 million

County must make up $111 million
budget deficit
San Jose – Social services and public safety departments will absorb the biggest hits in the county’s effort to close a $111 million budget deficit for the fiscal year beginning next July.

Under a plan released Tuesday by Santa Clara County Executive Pete Kutras, $9.1 million would be slashed from departments ranging from the attorney’s office and sheriff’s department to the public health department and aid programs including senior citizen nutrition sites and children’s shelters.

“I have no other place to go,” Kutras said, noting that social service programs do have the ability to attract funding outside the county’s general fund. “Social services are one of the most difficult places to make cuts.”

The proposal, which will be debated and revised several times before a budget is adopted next June, also means that South County’s rural crime sheriff’s deputy is once again in jeopardy.

County Sheriff Laurie Smith said Tuesday that she believes the position, nearly cut from the current budget, is critical but may fall victim to the $500,000 cut Kutras ordered for her department.

“I think it’s important, but our budget is so decreased,” Smith said. “There will be very difficult decisions. Our budget is bleak.”

Jenny Derry, executive director of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau said that losing the popular deputy Doug Vander Esch would be devastating to the area’s rural community. Vander Esch was one of the county’s employees of the month for November for his efforts to cut down on farm equipment theft.

“It’s amazing, the number of calls he goes out on,” Derry said. “He benefits not just the agricultural community but the rural community in general.”

The South County Animal Shelter in San Martin, the subject of much controversy in this year’s budget process, is safe because no cuts have been ordered for the county agricultural department. Overall, the cuts required in county departments are fewer than in recent years, though more may be coming.

For now, Kutras hopes to solve the deficit through the use of reserves, so-called one-time funds such as spending shortfalls from the current budget, and increased revenues from the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.

“It’s a very ambitious target,” Kutras said of a possible $27 million in new revenue from the hospital. “It is by no means assured.”

Department heads must report by February how they intend to meet their budget goals. Members of the board of supervisors will begin reviewing budget plans in the spring.

“This is only the first cut so I’m not getting too excited here,” Supervisor Don Gage said, though he quickly added that the county’s economic outlook is not very good.

“We don’t control the state, we don’t control the feds, and we certainly don’t control the economy,” Gage said. “In light of all that, we’re in deep ta-ta right now.”

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