The Tulare County Board of Supervisors is able to consider a “restored' budget at its meeting going on right now.

A public hearing on the $1.62 billion budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year for the county is being presented at today's county board meeting, which began at 9 a.m. A public hearing is being held on the budget and the board will consider adopting the budget.

County staff refer to the 2021/2022 budget as a “restored” budget, stating the county has largely been able to rebound from measures that had to be taken in the 2020/2021 budget due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the budget, county staff state the county can now lift its hiring freeze and is recommending the board do so as part of adopting the budget. The board enacted the hiring freeze on May 5, 2020.

During fiscal year 2020/2021 the growing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic brought uncertainty to the economic forecast for the nation, state and county,” county staff reported. “In anticipation of potential revenue shortfalls, the county proactively reduced” the general fund budget by 2 percent.

The county also transferred $2 million from its strategic reserve and reduced its contingency fund by $1 million.

Department heads and the County Administrative Office worked diligently and collaboratively in making difficult decisions that reduced costs and identified alternative resources of revenue” to ensure a balanced budget for 2020/2021.

The budget reductions included eliminating vacant positions, restricting travel and training, delaying large purchases and capital projects and reducing discretionary spending.

But the county reported all those budget cuts have been restored while still being able to maintain a balanced budget for 2021/2022.

Instead of a 2 percent cut, the general fund has been increased by seven percent in 2021-2022 from about $887 million to about $950 million. And when it comes to capital projects, the capital improvement plan has been doubled from $3 million to $6 million.

In addition the recommended budget includes a 3 percent cost of living increase and a one-time advanced payment of $1,500 “for maintaining continuity of operations for the county's critial infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic” to the following employees: Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, District Attorney Tim Ward, county assessor/clerk recorder and auditor/controller/treasurer/tax collector.

The budget also includes a 3 percent cost of living increase for the supervisors, which would bring their salary to about $118,00 a year.

If lifting the hiring freeze is approved as part of the budget, the hiring freeze would be lifted

The Recommended Budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021/22 is respectfully submitted, and “reflects the themes of fiscal responsibility, enhancing public

safety and security, promoting economic well-being, quality of life, and strong

organizational performance,” the county staff report stated. The recommended budget for each department and agency supports this framework.”

County staff also reported a steady economic recovery in the county from the pandemic has led to a more favorable budget. “Due to the fiscal restraint of your Board, exceptional efforts of the entire county management team, steady economic growth, and use of conservative revenue estimates,” the budget has been able to be presented, county staff stated.

The budget also increases the strategic reserve from $30 million to $33 million. The budget also restores the contingency fund from $4 million to $5 million.

In addition $2 million has been included in the budget for the continued recovering from the Sequoia Complex. Another $2 million in the budget has been allocated for drought response.

This $1.62 billion budget demonstrates Tulare County's sound financial position and reflects the board's policy to maintain feasible and sustainable fiscal operations,” county staff reported.

It is my pleasure to inform the board that due to the hard work of county department heads, funding from the CARES Act, a positive economic rebound and sound fiscal principles, the FY 2021/2022 budget restores the 2 percent reduction to departments, returns $3 million to the strategic reserves, restores the county's contingency amount to pre-pandemic levels and includes a recommendation to lift the hiring freeze,” County Administrative Officer Jason Britt stated.

A major reason why the county can present a more favorable budget in 2021-2022 is funding it's receiving from the American Rescue Plan. The county is receiving a total of $90.6 million from the ARP as $45.3 million is budgeted this fiscal year and the remaining $45.3 million will come next year.

And as a reminder the pandemic is still very much having an impact during the latest surge in other business at today's meeting a report on the status of COVID-19 in Tulare County will be presented. It's the first such report that will be given at the board meeting since June.

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