Monday, June 26, 2006

Pleasant Chore

Pleasant Chore
Solano Enjoys a Healthy Budget With Spending Choices

When Solano County supervisors come to the table Monday morning to discuss next year's spending plan, they will find themselves with an enviable mission: Determining how to best spend money.

Solano County expects its general fund coffers to reach a very comfortable $40.3 million by the end of the month, thanks to about $16 million in increased county revenue and $4 million in departmental savings.

Even after you factor in a modest 8 percent spending increase, there's still a considerable amount of money to spend, save or dog-ear for future projects.

And, as you might guess, supervisors have a wide range of proposals before them, ranging from county park programs to a substantial jail expansion. Supervisors are likely to follow through with a number of staff recommendations following the discussion Monday, but there is adequate time to raise questions and perhaps add or delete some spending propositions.

We are particularly encouraged to see a proposed $14 million maintenance fund for county buildings.

Solano's new, state-of-the-art Government Center has been its biggest investment to date. Ensuring that it is well maintained could save repair work down the line.

Other county-owned properties could benefit from regular work as well. Perhaps the county's many Veterans Halls wouldn't be in such shoddy shape today had the county paid attention to maintenance of all its buildings in years past. But, as a grand jury report noted recently, most - and Vacaville's fine facility is an exception - are in need of major repair. Some significant money should be put toward their restoration.

Another wise idea is the proposal to set aside $4.7 million to cover unplanned county retirements. In the past, unplanned retirements forced the county to leave some positions vacant for long periods of time, just to offset the cost. No department functions well when short-handed.

We also commend a plan to donate $300,000 to insure 97 percent of all children in Solano County.

One of the biggest expenses in the $866 million spending plan is construction of a new $37 million Health and Social Services center in Vallejo. In addition, a major chunk of change will be needed to add space for an additional 224 beds at the Clay Bank jail, which frequently suffers from overcrowding.

Some improvements included in this year's budget reflect the use of state and federal funds.

For example, the county plans to add 85 new jobs, with many of them in the mental health services division. That funding comes from a voter-approved state initiative.

Some park improvement programs also come from state money. One proposal would construct a nature and interpretive center at Lake Solano Park.

Supervisors will consider using county money to open Lynch Canyon and fund a full-time park ranger and a part-time volunteer coordinator.

On the downside, we haven't seen any funds ear-marked yet to improve transportation. Right now the county is on an 80-year maintenance schedule. Anyone who has driven on rural roads knows that simply is not sufficient.

Of course we understand the county's reluctance to commit what may be a one-time surplus to ongoing costs, such as salaries or regularly scheduled repairs.

It appears that this year's budget reflects a good use of the county's surplus funds, while taking advantage of state and federal money as well.

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