County Passes ‘Hemorrhaging’ Budget on Split Vote

Imperial County Passes ‘Hemorrhaging’ Budget on Split Vote

IMPERIAL COUNTY — From a “slight shortage of funds” to a “hemorrhaging wound,” Imperial County supervisors had a variety of ways to describe the county’s budget.

After a 3-2 vote, the Board of Supervisors passed a final budget balanced by transferring realignment funds, reducing out-of-county travel, and freezing vacant positions.

However, two supervisors called on the county and board to come up with a long-term plan to fix what both have called an ongoing problem. 

Supervisors Luis Plancarte, Raymond Castillo and Michael Kelley voted to approve the budget, while Supervisors Jesus Escobar and Ryan Kelley voted against the budget as presented Sept. 22.

“A year ago, at this time, we passed a budget, and I made it known that I would not vote for another budget that did not have a balance between revenue and expenses,” District 4 Supervisor Ryan Kelley said. “I do ask that this board consider that this become the policy of this board going forward that we will not go and approve another budget that exceeds our revenue. We must get this under control.”

It has been a tough year, and the board will have to look at the budget month by month to make sure it stays balanced, said District 5 Supervisor Castillo, who motioned to approve the budget. However, it is not as bad as some have made it out to seem, he said.

“Someone here always says we’re broke. But no, we’re not broke. We just have a slight shortage of funds, and somehow you guys made it happen by taking the moneys from other departments, other programs, to patch up the deficit,” Castillo said. “It’s amazing how the recommended budget is $540 million. When I first got on the board, it was a little over $400 million. So, in the past 10 years I’ve served on the board, it’s gone up over $140 million.”

He thanked budget staff for making it work every year.

Not all were so impressed by the increase in budget numbers.

“I disagree with Supervisor Castillo, respectfully disagree,” District 1 Supervisor Escobar said. “We are going through significant financial challenges.”

Looking year over year, Escobar said, the county is going downhill, and it’s a steep slope.

“If year over year we’re struggling on a consistent basis, why is every bar increasing for fiscal year ’20-21?” he asked. “We have a dollar and we’re spending $1.25. We have $2 and we’re spending $3. The rubber will meet the road. It may not be this year. It may not be next year, but eventually the rubber will meet the road and we will suffer the consequences.”

He commended staff on taking some measures to reduce the budget, like reducing out-of-county travel and extra-help expenses, but Escobar said he was concerned that close to $4 million of funds used to balance the budget came from freezing vacant positions. 

“That’s putting a bandage on a hemorrhaging wound,” he said. “That’s not going to solve the problem in the long term.”

He said he’s lived this problem in Calexico, where he was a member of the City Council, and nobody wants to reduce wages through furloughs. He urged the county executive officer and board to look at a five-year plan to “get us out of this rut,” Escobar said.

Chairman of the Board and District 2 Supervisor Plancarte said the board will be re-evaluating the budget on a month-to-month basis, but he knows the county needs a budget, and he is willing to endorse the budget as presented because it’s a balanced budget.

This story is featured in the Sep 24, 2020 e-Edition.

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