Understanding Shasta County Spending (Part I)

County leadership has just published a recommended budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which will go before the Board of Supervisors in a few weeks. Deciding how to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars is one of the most important sets of decisions the County must make. It’s critical the Board, County staff, and the public understand the budget. The budget hearings during the first week of June will help.

However, it is very difficult to understand the 659-page budget unless you’ve spent a few years building county budgets. I say that as someone who loves numbers and has built 9-figure budgets. 

Over what will likely be the next few weeks, I’m going to try to unpack the budget in a way that makes sense to me – and to the average person with no government experience. My explanations will likely be a bit oversimplified and I’ll probably get some things wrong (which I’ll correct when I find out I was wrong) but my hope is that by the end, you and I can explain how our county spends our money to our children. It’s that important.

Here’s part 1:

How much money will the County receive (revenue) and how much will it spend (expenses)?

The County expects to receive $615.7M this coming fiscal year. It will pull another $111.2M from our “savings” (money in our bank accounts called “fund balances”) to pay for our total expenses of $726.9M, of which $16.8M will be put back into savings by next June. So we expect to spend $710.1M this coming year.

In your personal finances, you may want to avoid spending down your savings, but that isn't necessarily true for the County. For example, sometimes the County receives a grant that it will spend down over 5 years but receive in its entirety in the first year.

 

How does County spending compare to previous years? 

County expenses increased 7.0% from just last year and 44% from FY2019-20. We plan to spend $215M more this coming year than we did 6 years ago. Is this massive increase just inflation? Not quite. As the chart below shows, if county expenses had grown at the same rate as inflation (as calculated by CPI) since June 30, 2019, our county expenses this coming year would be $614M rather than $710M.

 

Is the County spending too much?

That is a hard question to answer. One of the best ways to know is to compare our spending per person to other counties. Based on a sample of 6 counties, it appears that we're spending less per person than the really small counties, but considerably more than counties like Placer and Orange. I plan to plot the remaining 52 counties on this chart in the future.

 

So what are we spending ~$4,000/person on?

We're spending $710M or $4,000/person, but $92M of that spending goes to "Other Funds", which includes County departments paying other County departments for their services. When we focus on the remaining $618M, we find that 82% is spent on Public Assistance, Public Protection, and Health and Sanitation.

 

Note: The County calls ~$2M of its spending "Education" spending, but it is not for schools. The bulk of it is for the library. The Shasta County Office of Education does not fall under the Board of Supervisors.

 

The next natural question - especially for the massive categories above - is: How are we spending the money in each of those areas?

For now, I'll break down the top 3 categories:

Public Assistance Spending Breakdown:

We plan to spend $208M on Public Assistance. Over half of those funds will go to Social Services Administration, which the County Budget describes in this way: a variety of programs that promote the welfare of persons in Shasta County through crisis intervention and protection functions, prevention services, income maintenance, and employment and training programs. This includes CalWorks, CalFresh, and eligibility services for Medi-Cal. About half of these funds go to County salaries and benefits. The next biggest spending category is $72M for welfare payments going directly to people in the County. Note the quite small spend on housing and housing services of $8M.

Public Protection Spending Breakdown:

We plan to spend $170M on Pubic Protection next year, which is a 35% increase over 2 years ago. Over 75% of this spending is what you'd expect: the Sheriff's patrol services, the jail and other detention options, juvenile hall, probation, and the District Attorney. As with the other categories, I've taken some liberties in grouping expenses to simplify.

 

Health and Sanitation Spending Breakdown:

Almost 60% of Health and Sanitation spending focuses on mental health with another ~25% going toward public health. The California Children's Services program is a State program for children with certain diseases or health problems.

 

There is a lot more to unpack in this budget. Here are some things I plan to look into in the coming weeks:

  • Amounts in our fund balances (i.e., think "savings accounts") and how those amounts are changing
  • Portion of revenue in each category that is restricted for certain purposes vs. from the General Fund and unrestricted
  • Large increases or decreases in spending categories

What questions do you have about the budget? If I don't know or can't figure out myself, I'll connect with relevant County staff to find out.

 

If you want to receive emails with information like this in your inbox each Wednesday, sign up here.