Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Hefty Budget to Enable Many County Project

Hefty Budget to Enable Many County Projects
Solano Lines Up Several Ambitious Schemes as Supervisors Prepare to Pass a Healthy $866 Million Budget for Fiscal Year 2006-2007.
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

Solano County's budget for the upcoming 2006-07 fiscal year incorporates some nice-to-have items that were simply not possible during the tight financial times of the last several years.
Next year, Solano's taxpayers can look forward to a county jail expansion that relieves chronic overcrowding of inmates, to a health insurance system that ensures that nearly every disadvantaged child in Solano County has care and to nicer parklands near Vacaville and Fairfield.

The add-ons in the county's proposed $866 million budget could be enacted Monday when county leaders commence their yearly budget hearings. The official start of the 2006-07 fiscal year is Saturday.

"It's a pretty positive outlook," said Solano County Supervisor Mike Reagan. "Unlike most other counties in the state, we're not laying off people and terminating programs."

The county plans a "modest" 8 percent increase in spending during the upcoming fiscal year, and that opens up some possibilities, say county leaders.

In addition to the budget's planned add-ons, the county is scheduled to stay on track with starting construction on a new $37 million Health and Social Services center planned in Vallejo.

County leaders will also consider a $14 million maintenance fund for the upkeep of buildings. Also, a multimillion dollar account to cover unplanned county retirements could grow to the tune of $4.7 million in 2006-07.

The maintenance account could prevent the county's buildings from slipping into disrepair - a problem for local veterans halls from Dixon to Rio Vista, Reagan said. A retirement account will buffer the county from leaving positions open for long periods when an employee unexpectedly retires, he said.

"You can decide not to plan for these things, or you can plan for it," Reagan said. "The roof is going to need to be fixed. People are going to retire."

This year's budget is in contrast to Solano's spending plans during the past four years that did little more than maintain existing programs.

The county this year plans to create 85 new jobs, many for the county's mental health services division - supported by a voter-approved state initiative.

That expansion is just the beginning. In the upcoming year, the county plans to finance a 224-bed expansion of the Clay Bank jail, which now periodically allows inmates to check out early because of chronic overcrowding in the county's two jails.

Construction on the expansion could begin in mid-2007, said Paula Toynbee, spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Office.

With some money to play with, county leaders also have planned to donate $300,000 to a community effort to ensure that as much as 97 of all children in the county have medical insurance.

Meanwhile, Lake Solano Park near Vacaville and the Lynch Canyon open space area near Fairfield would benefit from the county's proposed budget.

Lake Solano Park could be upgraded to include a new nature and interpretive center, according to the county's budget document.

Lynch Canyon, now open rarely for hikers, could receive a nearly $300,000 cash infusion from the county.

The funding could allow for a full-time park ranger and part-time volunteer coordinator at Lynch Canyon, owned by the nonprofit Solano Land Trust.

The county's money could help open for five days a week the canyon's more than 1,000 acres of rolling hills, bubbling gullies, and steep ravines, said Marilyn Farley, executive director of the Solano Land Trust.

The funding would be a part of a three-year pilot program that could gauge the public's interest in using the unique open space area.

The land trust has title to more than 10,000 acres in Solano County, but doesn't have the money to open much of its protected areas to the public on a regular basis.

"I would like to hope that this is a start toward a park district," Farley said. "Like (Supervisors) John Vasquez and John Silva said, we're taking baby steps. I think we take baby steps and see how well it works."

Jason Massad can be reached at county@thereporter.com.

Solano's Got It!

Solano's Got It!
The Best That Northern California Has To Offer.

Blog Archive