MOJAVE -     The Kern County Board of Supervisor has begun deliberating the proposed $3 billion 2020-21 fiscal year budget. The fiscal year started on July 1st and runs through June 30th.

  According to Kern County 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner, “it’s going to be a serious hurdle for us to deal with over the course of the next 2 years”. This comes from a virtual meeting with the Mojave Chamber of Commerce dated June 25th.

  While the fiscal year started July 1st, the county will continue to refine the budget proposal with the end of year figures and most recent state and local revenue projections before finalizing the plan in August.

  “The COVID-19 pandemic economic shutdown hit what was already anemic revenue growth for the county and revenue from hotel beds and sales taxes were hit by the pandemic at the same time the reduced oil prices depressed property taxes from the county’s vast oil and gas fields; the county is looking at a total reduction of about $56.5 million over the next two years” Scrivner said.

  This hit comes just as the county emerged from the 4-year process to close a $44.5 million structural deficit in the General Fund largely due to the lost tax revenue from oil and gas.

  Scrivner also stated that, “There are still a lot of variables at play here including uncertainty if there will be another Federal Relief Package and that’s something we’re going to have to keep watching over the next few months. We’re operating under the assumption that nothing is going to happen and we’re going to have to close that budget gap on our own. The county budget is drafted based on oil prices that are established each January; this year, oil was $53/barrel and now it’s in the $20-$30 a barrel range reducing the value of the fields; we don’t know what it’s going to look like when we get to January 2021”.

  In the proposed budget, the county General Fund (which handles the bulk of the discretionary spending) will see cuts of 7.5% across most categories. One exception is in the area of public protection, in which the Kern County Sheriff’s Office will see a slight increase in funding and the District Attorney and courts will see either flat or smaller funding cuts. “The county is trying not to lose the momentum gained with getting the Sheriff’s Office to a better place where they can recruit and not lose so many deputies to other better-paying departments but what that means is everybody else is going to have to take more of a cut and that’s daunting” Scrivner said.

  Kern County has had a “hiring freeze since May 19th except for public safety positions and additionally, all flexible promotions and step increases have been frozen for existing employees. One likely casualty is the library system in which all 24 Kern County libraries have been closed due to the pandemic and according to Scrivner, its unlikely all of them will reopen.

  The Kern County Fire Department has had a long term funding problem and the Board of Supervisors will look at negotiating an increase in charges to those cities that contract with the county departments for services after a consultant found a $10 million gap between the departments’ costs and what cities are paying for the service. According to Scrivner, “We’re wisely preparing for what we know now; it could get better or it could get worse”.

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