By KAREN VELIE
The discovery of a San Luis Obispo County accounting error has led staff to revise a projected budget surplus of $3 million to $5 million into a $4.8 million shortfall. An error Supervisor Adam Hill is blaming on his political opponents.
On Oct. 10, county administrators presented their 2018-2019 fiscal-year forecast to the SLO County Board of Supervisors, which included a projected surplus. However, a county staffer overlooked putting staff raises the board approved in June into the projected budget.
Two weeks later, County Auditor Controller Jim Erb discovered the error and informed the board of the now projected $4.8 million deficit.
“Each year, the Board of Supervisors reviews the county’s budget balancing strategies and approaches,” the auditor’s office said in a press release. “This year, the discussion on Nov. 7 will serve as a guide to closing the projected gap in the coming fiscal year.
“The county methodically increased its budget as it moved out of the recent economic downturn. In doing so, it expanded public programs and services and funded several major capital projects, while adding more than $70 million to reserves, increasing its general fund contingency from 4 percent back to its 5 percent target, and bringing employee wages closer to market.”
Following the announcement, Hill took to Facebook accusing the board majority for the error because they voted to hire a new sheriff deputy, to provide groundwater management, to build a new animal shelter and to increase road maintenance.
“Then the new majority went on a spending spree and now a $3-5M surplus has become $3-5 deficit,” Hill wrote. “There’s an easy fix, but I doubt the ‘conservative’ majority will claw back its reckless spending.”
During the 2016-2017 budget hearings, supervisors Bruce Gibson and Hill spared with supervisors John Peschong, Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton over groundwater management and funds for parks in Nipomo. The board majority won the vote and a balanced budget was passed.
Under Hill’s Facebook post, in which he includes a link to a Tribune article, several of Hill’s readers accused him of creating an issue in order to promote a hidden agenda. (Since the budget hearings last summer, Hill has repeatedly attempted to revisit the issue of funding for groundwater maintenance.)
“Are you refuting the statement in the article that this was the result of ‘straight up human error?’ Because that’s what this article is about,” said Melissa Jenna Godsey. “Why are you twisting what is obviously a nonpartisan issue into an opportunity to throw blows at your peers on the BOS? What’s your intention?”
Hill responded by demeaning his detractors with comments like “That required zero thought and it shows,” and “It helps to know what you’re talking about.”
County administrators are slated to give a presentation about the proposed budget deficit on Nov. 7.
“We will be getting a full accounting and explanation for the error, how it happened, who was responsible, and how we will prevent such errors of this magnitude in the future,” Supervisor Lynn Compton said.
After learning of the deficit in the proposed 2017-2018 budget, Hill said he wants to revisits decisions made regarding the 2016-2017 fiscal-year budget, a budget that remains balanced.