ALAMEDA COUNTY//BUDGET | The East Bay’s local economy is moving further from the worst of the Great Recession and closer to better times—except, only slightly.
Last week, the Alameda County administrator’s office announced a $80.2 million funding gap that follows four years of overwhelming budget shortfalls highlighted by steep cuts to staff and crucial safety net social services.
The figure, however, is not much different than last fiscal year’s $88.1 million shortfall. But, in a sign the economy may be stabilizing to a new normal without reinstatement of past cuts and unfavorable unemployment, the gap is significantly more optimistic than debilitating triple-digits deficits that peaked at $177.6 million four years ago.
Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi says county departments are currently developing budget reduction plans to be proposed later this month. Muranishi plans to present the Board of Supervisors with a proposed balanced budget plan by June 11.
The moderately encouraging uptick in Alameda County’s finances come from signs the East Bay’s housing market is begin to simmer. “What we’re seeing this year that we haven’t seen is some increase in our property taxes,” Muranishi said this week, while cautiously labeling the increases both “modest” and “slight.” Although discretionary revenues are up almost one percent, Murinishi says, expenditures, or what she calls, “the cost of doing business,” is up four percent.
The county expects $15.1 million in projected losses in revenue this year; over a third of which comes from Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment of state taxes, or $5.6 million. Cost of living increases for some of the county’s over 7,300 employees also amount for $14.1 million of the shortfall, along with retirement and health care costs ($9.5 million) and general assistance ($3 million).
The county, last year, used $53.7 million in one-time only fiscal management reward dollars carried over from the previous year’s net savings to close its budget shortfall.
According to budget figures provided by the county administrator’s office, a projected increases of $20.2 million in revenues is made up of $8.8 million in additional property tax receipts, pass-through payments ($5 million ) and motor vehicle and sales tax dollars ($4.8 million).
Despite likely cuts to social services in Alameda County, or, at the very least, continuing of current levels without reinstatement of many past cuts, chart after chart released by the administrator's office last week show a slowly improving outlook. Although nowhere near erasing debilitating losses over the past five years.
Median home values are inching up to over $380,000, as of last February, according to the county. However, the number represents a slight dip from late 2012 when it briefly crossed the $400,000 threshold. In comparison, during the height of the housing market, home values hit a peak of $619,000 in August 2007 before plummeting to $280,000 nearly two years later.
Unemployment in Alameda County, similarly, is slowly dropping (8.6 percent, as of March), as is the number of foreclosures reported last year. The over 3,000 foreclosures logged last year is a six-year low in Alameda County. By 2008, as the economy began bottoming out, the figure rose sharply to over 8,000.
For first time in three years, the secured property tax percent change is in the black and assessment rolls are up to 2.1% from .04 year before. This followed the first two years of negative assessment for the county in generations.