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Financial officer concerned about county’s future

Nevada County is in good financial shape, but its chief fiscal officer says that could change if careful planning isn’t done for the near future.

Joe Christoffel, the county’s CFO, told the county board of supervisors Tuesday that he sees coming problems with decreasing tax revenue, coupled with the rising costs of employees and the county jail.

“I lay awake at night thinking about this,” Christoffel told the board at its annual two-day goals and objectives meeting at Sierra College’s Grass Valley campus. “We have strong storm winds ahead, but if we plan, we can weather them.”



Christoffel said property tax revenues will continue to increase for the next fiscal year of 2006-07. But property transfer tax revenues for 2004-05 and 2005-06 have flattened out. That is a sign, he said, that the booming real estate market has leveled and with it, the reliance on increasing property tax revenue for a growing county.

Christoffel said a swelling jail population and costs are also a concern for the board, as are the increasing costs of county personnel. There has also been a loss of sales tax revenue from the Grass Valley’s annexation of the Glenbrook Basin.




The fiscal officer said the county is expected to finish the 2005-06 fiscal year on June 30 with a general fund balance of $11.2 million, more than the $8.7 million originally expected. That pleasant surprise came from higher revenues and fewer expenditures than first projected.

“The county remains fiscally healthy,” Christoffel said, adding that there are also no loan payback plans “or other triple flips,” in Gov. Schwarzenegger’s budget for 2006-07 – compared to the last two years – which should make planning easier.

But for future years, “the warning signs are out there via the (property) transfer tax,” Christoffel said. Number two on the alarm list is the need for expanded jail room to avert lawsuits and meet state inmate requirements.

Christoffel said the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility has a capacity of 250 and a new pod for 125 more beds would cost $10 million to $15 million. While the county might get financial help to build a jail extension, “the biggest thing is the operating costs of $2 million,” extra per year. Add the debt service on a new jail wing and that could climb to $3 million annually, he said.

Sheriff Keith Royal said changing numbers at the jail in recent years have left the county open for lawsuits. The jail averages 200 to 220 inmates per day, but the state considers 80 percent capacity to be full, he said, which is 200 prisoners.

The jail was built to house 13 females, but there are now an average of 35 per day, Royal said. Jailers are also having a difficult time meeting state requirements to keep misdemeanor and felony inmates separate.

The answer may be to build a regional center jail in the Truckee area which would house inmates from Nevada, Placer and Sierra counties, Royal said. County CEO Rick Haffey said the problem also might be solved by building a regional center and an addition to existing jail in Nevada City.

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To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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