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Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Wednesday, Feb. 15 @ 2:57 p.m.
Starkey 'Shoots Her Shot' On Budget Workshop Proposal, Agrees To Compromise
Valerie Starkey’s final shot at establishing what she feels is a more transparent budget process didn’t quite tickle the bottom of the net Tuesday, but it wasn’t a total brick either.
Though her colleagues blocked Starkey’s motion to have a Del Norte County supervisor sit in on the budget meetings between staff and administration, they agreed to allow department heads to present their budget requests to the entire Board.
The compromise wasn’t unanimous. District 4 Supervisor Joey Borges dissented, opposing two of the three options staff presented, which included holding public workshops before the county administrative officer presents the draft budget in June.
Borges drew on his experience as the owner of a septic installation and excavation business to urge the Board of Supervisors to keep things status quo.
“Option 2 seems like having a foreman on the ground. He’s kind of in the way most of the time, but he’s watching over (things),” he said, referring to the compromise his colleagues wound up approving. “Option 3 to me seems like I went out and hired these guys to do the job and he’s going to run my excavator. But I’m going to sit in the seat, he’s going to sit on my lap and we’re going to run the controls together.”
Borges argued that holding public workshops when the Board of Supervisors sees next year’s draft budget could lead to extra work for no reason.
The Board’s 4-1 decision Tuesday ended a debate that began about seven months ago when Starkey and then-District 5 Supervisor Susan Masten called for workshops so staff could answer the public’s questions about the county budget before they adopted it in September.
During an unagendized discussion last month, Board Chairman Darrin Short made a similar request but said he wanted to start those workshops earlier in the calendar year.
On Tuesday, Short presented his colleagues with three options, which included the proposed workshops as well as having a county supervisor participate in the “full budget process” and report back to their colleagues. Status quo was on the table too.
According to County Administrative Officer Neal Lopez, he and Auditor-Controller Clinton Schaad kick off the budget process each year by sending a memo to each department head asking them to submit their requests. This includes potential staffing changes, proposed restructuring as well as any equipment or improvements those managers feel their department needs.
After combing through those requests and comparing them to previous years, Lopez and Schaad meet with individual departments, providing them a chance to justify their requests.
This is a two-month process that typically starts in April. Lopez and Schaad present a recommended budget to the Board of Supervisors in June.
“This gives us spending authority as of July 1 so we can continue to do business and keep our doors open when the next fiscal year starts,” Lopez told supervisors. “That budget is typically not balanced (yet) because we don’t know the fund balance from the prior year yet. The prior year is closed out through July and August when we’re still receiving accruals for revenues and expenditures.”
Once administration finds out what the county’s fund balance is from the previous fiscal year, it’s rolled over to the next fiscal year and in most cases Lopez presents the Board of Supervisors with a balanced budget in September.
In the past, a county supervisor had been part of the budget team, but it was years ago, Lopez said.
District 3 Supervisor Chris Howard said that was part of his concerns with Short’s proposal and Starkey’s motion.
“That did occur with a previous board member. There were a lot of promises made at those discussions that we as a Board collectively can’t make,” Howard said. “But that individual was, to me, completely out of school. In this situation — not to say that would occur if that was adopted — but we’d have to have strict parameters that that (would) not occur. We act as one.”
Last year, Starkey and Masten held a “very last-minute, two-day workshop.” Two to four members of the public attended, but more than 100 people viewed recordings of each session afterward, Starkey told her colleagues.
“Even if no one showed up and no one viewed, I still would be advocating for this,” she said. “Because it’s not so much demanding the public be involved. It’s (giving them) that option that should the public wish to become involved, they have the option to do that.”
Masten and Starkey asked “very basic questions” during those workshops that were provided to the department heads prior to the meetings.
Starkey said she reached out to representatives of 21 counties with a population of 100,000 people or fewer. Eighty percent have open public workshops. Of the five counties that don’t, one of those counties has a supervisor assigned to a financial committee or an ad-hoc budget committee, Starkey said.
“I really want us to know the why — why the decisions are getting made to enhance or to cut individual department budgets,” she said. “I’m asking once again to have the budget workshops in the spring and for a supervisor to be appointed to the budget team so we can be involved in developing our story.”
Starkey said Tuesday’s meeting would be the last time she’d ask for budget workshops. Following the meeting, she said she was disappointed that most of her colleagues weren’t willing to change the status quo. But she liked the compromised, saying she hopes that when department heads present their priorities and goals it’ll be a chance for community engagement as well.
It was Howard who came up with the compromise, saying that way he and his colleagues would have an idea of what department heads would be talking with administrators about.
“Once that’s taken care of, we have three months to kick this sucker around starting in June with that draft budget,” he said.