By Layla Mustafa
WOODLAND – Everything—surprisingly—was coming up roses Tuesday when the Yolo County Board of Supervisors took up the 2020-21 budget, with Chief Budget Official Mubeen Qader noting that, while many jurisdictions face challenges in balancing budgets, Yolo was much better prepared, and took “a proactive approach in asking departments to reduce budgets.”
But then the matter of the District Attorney Office came up.
Qader said, “Even though the County’s General fund supported areas do not require further reductions, there are still some funding streams that have emerging fiscal issues. DFS is working with the County departments on resolving those specific issues through a targeted approach. Some of the areas under review are funded by the Realignment dollars and some programs which didn’t initially participate in reductions during the recommended budget due to not being reliant on the general fund.”
Supervisor Don Saylor asked about the District Attorney’s budget.
While the DA’s office sent a 29-page report to the board, it was only delivered last night, leaving Saylor and other board members unable to properly review it before the meeting.
With only a brief inspection of the budget, Saylor did note that there was a $1 million increase in general fund commitment to the department. Additionally, there was a total of almost $13 million in fund balance, with almost $10 million of it not used, according to Saylor, “at a time when we have very little resources.”
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven was present on behalf of the DA’s office. He established that the report was only sent last night because the office had been under the impression that they needed it done for the Sept. 29 meeting. They apparently had received notice that they needed to have the document prepared a week ago.
DDA Raven underlined the importance of being cautious when discussing the fund balance, as it tends to confuse many. He mentioned that the Consumer Fraud/Environmental Protection division is self-funded. He explained if there are no settlements, “they won’t be able to survive.”
Raven claims, in order to ensure the system does not promote an increase in DA’s filing suits, there needs to be some allocated funds for when no suits take place. For this reason, the $10 million is restricted, and cannot be used for anything other than environmental and consumer purposes.
More questions followed from this.
Saylor asked for the council and finance division to work together with the DA to understand the limitations and uses of larger funds. Supervisor Jim Provenza asked for more information on how much money they need for their division to stay viable, and how much money might be available for other concerns in the community.
Chairman Gary Sandy proposed that they should ask fiscal services to evaluate the DA’s report or work with county counsel on a fund spending policy.
Supervisor Oscar Villegas added that he had received significant public inquiry into the DA’s budget, and thought it would be beneficial to add some public testimony along with more conversation on the budget to encourage the DA’s stated goal to “exhibit transparency.”
Saylor expressed hope to see the budget assessed as a potential use of resources, stating, “I don’t accept the idea that there’s not a way to use the fund in a way that helps the county and helps the community members in the county.”
DDA Raven assured the board that the DA’s office wanted to be able to help the county, adding that the office has already helped with code enforcement and environmental, and said “there is some funding we can use… and we actually used some of the funding for First 5.”
The floor was then opened for public comment. Many of those who called in agreed that there needed to be some reconsideration and review of the DA’s current budget.
Comments ranged from “if you don’t use it, you lose it” to a call on the board to take a deeper look into the salaries. One particular caller asked for the board to request a clearer breakdown of salaries, and to analyze how many staff are actually needed. This would include reviewing items such as how many DDA’s actually appear in court.
County Administrator Patrick Blacklock promised to review the 29-page document, and to work with the DA to examine the restrictiveness of the fund.
It is important to note that some board members voiced their concern in discussing the contents of the budget document. While some had not been able to properly review the information from the night prior, Supervisor Oscar Villegas didn’t receive the document at all.
The matter will be researched in collaboration with the DA’s office, and will be reviewed on September 29.