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DeMartini gives bleak picture of county finances
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The county will need to hold on through these tough economic times and expect help from no one. That was the basic message of Supervisor Jim DeMartini's "State of the County" address delivered yesterday. The District 5 supervisor, also the chairman of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, said that while the county is in "dire" economic times, he pronounced that "they will change for the better."

The county is expecting loss of $17.5 million in revenues flowing into the county General Fund. The decrease will be due to an expected $6.3 million decrease in assessed property values in Stanislaus County during the next budget year. Sales tax revenues will also be down significantly. Other cuts will come in the area of Proposition 172 public safety funding, Williamson Act funding, and vehicle license fees.

"Economic difficulty, and significantly decreased revenues and increased unemployment, is the only sure thing facing the county in 2009," said DeMartini. He said some county programs may have to be reduced or eliminated and some employees given pink slips.

To make matters worse, the state's inability to pass a budget - due last June - means counties may be issued IOUs as of Feb. 1. That could mean no money for the $38 million for social services in the county.

"Should the Legislature in Sacramento not reach an agreement, Stanislaus County may have to take emergency action to either close off those services or, if we are not allowed to take that step, find the money by closing other programs and laying off other staff."

As revenues decrease, more demand for public assistance is increasing locally. DeMartini noted that over 54,000 people in Stanislaus County are receiving food stamps and more than 117,000 people are receiving Medi-Cal benefits.

DeMartini made a number of references to the last State of the County address in which the late Supervisor Tom Mayfield warned tough times were ahead. DeMartini said the county prepared by reducing expenses to conserve revenue in 2008, including eliminating over 190 part-time jobs and over 200 full-time positions, mostly in the area of Child Support Services, the Building Department, Health Services Agency, Library and other departments.

DeMartini noted that the county faces a challenge to maintain adequate funding in its retirement fund. "A recent review indicates that the fund's actuarial assumptions are out sync with accepted norms and must be corrected. This is in addition to the $500 million loss the fund incurred during the 2008 market collapse." The Ceres supervisor said the county is updating the actuarial study but pledges to "insure that vested benefits for retired and current county employees are fully funded.

"The county will work with the Retirement Board to see that this is achieved without requiring layoffs of existing employees or cuts in services to the public."

The supervisor pledged spending in the areas of law enforcement, protecting the county's $2.4 billion agriculture economy. He also wants the county to continue with its annual goal of repaving 200 miles of county road in 2009.

DeMartini said progress continues to improve the South Modesto neighborhoods near Shackelford Elementary School.

"The city of Modesto will annex the Shackelford area this year," said DeMartini. "That is a good sign. It is important that county pocket areas become part of the cities that surround them. The county will continue to work in collaboration with our cities and redevelopment agencies to put in the infrastructure needed to upgrade these islands so that annexation can occur. Urban areas must have urban services."

Plans will also continue to build a new Animal Shelter by the end of 2010 with help from the cities. He said the existing Animal Shelter is old and not designed for animal health standards.

He also mentioned that the county's Health Services Agency completed its first year as a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-alike system for greater reimbursement from the federal government for providing certain health services. He said the process took several years to achieve, and that access to health-care has improved.

The clinic system provided over 240,000 patient visits in 2008.