Alameda County approves new $2.7B budget

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted Friday to approve a $2.7 billion budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1 that closes a $65 million funding gap without significant program reductions or staff layoffs.

The total budget represents an $86 million decrease from the current year but county officials attributed that to a reduction in the cost of capital projects rather than program cuts.

The general fund budget, which pays for most county services, is increasing by $71 million over the current year.

The funding gap is the difference between the cost of maintaining existing programs and projected revenues. The $65 million gap for fiscal 2015-16 is the lowest in many years.

County Administrator Susan Muranishi said the county is closing the funding gap by a combination of spending reductions, revenue increases and one-time strategic changes such as efficiency efforts.

Muranishi said in a statement that the county’s optimism about ongoing economic growth needs to be balanced with concerns about continued high demand for safety-net services, which were decimated by cuts during the recent recession, and the reality that surging state revenues will result in little additional support for these programs:

“We embark on the new fiscal year in relatively strong financial condition, with ample reason for optimism. At the same time we must be vigilant in monitoring our spending and in preparing for the next economic downturn. We know it will come, we just don’t know when.”

Even though Alameda County’s unemployment rate has fallen to 4.5 percent, about half of what it was a few years ago, Muranishi said the demand for food assistance, subsidized health care, cash aid and other support remains high.

She said rising home prices also pose a double-edged sword for the county.

Average housing costs in the county have returned to pre-recession levels and have led to a 6.5 percent increase in the assessed value of property, bringing in much-needed general purpose revenue, Muranishi said.

However, increases in home prices and rents are limiting the availability of affordable housing, she said.

That means many county residents have had to devote larger portions of their income to housing and there are more people who must turn to government assistance to cover other basic needs, Muranishi said.