Local News

Tuesday, Sep 24 2013 02:01 PM

County cuts $6.5 million from sheriff's, roads, other budgets

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern Medical Center.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Nobody will lose their job. Kern County libraries will keep the extra open days they were gifted by supervisors just weeks ago. Nonprofit groups that got county assistance in August won't lose that help.

In the main, the $6.5 million budget blow county government had to absorb Tuesday as a result of Kern Medical Center's financial turmoil was more of an inconvenience than a problem.

But the Board of Supervisors was not happy it had to approve the cuts to make up for a $19.5 million shortfall at the county-owned hospital.

"It's not fair. It's not fair that other departments that have critical services to provide can't provide those services" because of the mess at KMC, Supervisor Mick Gleason said.

On Sept. 9, supervisors learned that over the past several years, financial managers at KMC had dramatically overestimated -- to the tune of an estimated $64 million -- how much they could expect to be reimbursed by state and federal programs that pay for Medi-Cal patients and the uninsured.

The $19.5 million is this year's share of that financial deficit. In future years, county officials will have to account for the rest of the $64 million problem.

The cuts made Tuesday mean Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood will hold 13 vacant positions open to cover the $1.54 million share of the burden his office will carry.

Those positions include five deputies, a sergent, three detention deputies and fiscal support jobs.

The Roads Department will repave two fewer miles of road.

Parks and Recreation will hold off buying a new tree truck for another year.

And fewer rain sumps will get maintenance work from Engineering, Surveying and Permit Services staff.

The county will absorb the rest of the $19.5 million impact by cutting $6.5 million from KMC spending -- exactly how has not been decided -- and pulling $6.5 million from county reserves.

Supervisors pushed for even more cuts to come from KMC, even as some worried there weren't enough places to cut without impacting critical services.

"This is going to be a moving target as we see if KMC can absorb $6.5 million in cuts," said Supervisor Zack Scrivner. "That may not be possible."

Earlier Tuesday, supervisors also agreed to increase the county's general fund loan to Kern Medical Center to $121 million on Oct. 1 to cover its cash needs as the hospital copes with a three-paycheck month for employees.

KMC Chief Financial Officer Sandra Martin took the board through the hospital's checkbook register for the past week as she explained why the $121 million loan balance was needed.

Gleason asked Martin if, as fired KMC CEO Hensler had estimated, the loan balance would grow to $154 million by the end of October.

Maybe, she said.

"I don't think it will go that high. But I don't want to represent something and have to reverse myself later," Martin said.

Supervisors also approved a $340,000 increase to the contract amount for Toyon & Associates, the management consultant that helped uncover the problems with the county-owned hospital's calculations of its "receivables."

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