County budget error results in forecasted $2.8-4.8 million deficit
—A human error in the San Luis Obispo County financial budget forecast for the upcoming fiscal year lead to a projected $2.8 to 4.8 million deficit instead of a $3 to 5 million surplus, as previously expected. This was due to the recent salary increases, which benefit a majority of county employees who have already seen pay increases, being left out of the budget forecast, causing the $8 million error. The Board of Supervisors received the forecast with the budget mistake on Oct. 10, will obtain an accurate budget forecast at a Nov. 7 meeting, and will meet in Feb. 2018 for a more in-depth conversation about the budget, according to reports.
“Our priority is always to figure out how to balance the budget in a manner that lessens the impact on the public as much as possible,” said Emily Jackson, the county’s budget director for the past three years.
The incorrect forecast concluded there would be a $3-5 million surplus, and previous years have used surpluses to help fund singular projects or project expansions, according to Jackson. However, with the estimated budget deficit, there is no immediate threat to current county projects and the current budget, according to reports.
Currently, the San Luis Obispo County reserves are at $180 million as of July 1, 2017, which is a safety net if the projected deficit affects county projects and also covers current projects. The gap is also only one percent less of the total general fund budget, which is susceptible to budget fluctuation, according to reports.
“Using reserves is not necessarily a sign of a deficit or difficult…situation… [it’s] more of a savings account,” said Jackson, who confirmed that the office is actively making plans to avoid a similar situation in the future, such as reviewing the timeline and who looks at the forecast, along with other elements.