Transportation improvements and implementing better controls for the county budget have been two of my top priorities.
The good news is that the new interchange at Highway 4 and Lone Tree Way is open. Weather pending, the segment between Sellers and the Byron Highway will be open to two lanes in late spring and the entire State Route 4 Bypass should be fully open this summer.
There is a good news/bad news situation with county finances. The good news is that new fiscal policies implemented since I was elected have resulted in better spending practices and the building of healthier reserves.
Without these new approaches, the 2008 budget process would be even more difficult. The poor housing market will bring reduced property taxes and, together with the state's $14 billion plus budget shortfall, the county must once again find ways to do more with less.
When I took office in January of 2005, the county was in fiscal trouble. It had spent down its "rainy-day" reserves to $40 million and was on the bond rating agency watch list. My first day in office, I was appointed to the county's Finance Committee and since then I have worked to develop and implement more prudent fiscal policies.
We mandated that the county spend no more in revenues than it receives in any given year. Next, we proceeded to limit spending growth in good times to create a cushion for situations like we face this year. Finally, we put forward a responsible plan to pay down the future cost of health care for our retired employees.
As a result, the county's reserve fund has been increased to over $100 million and the county's new fiscal discipline was rewarded when Moody's Investors Service and Standard and Poor's Rating Service assigned their highest possible short-term credit ratings to Contra Costa County.
In the year ahead, we must be disciplined and stick to these newly enacted fiscal policies and be prepared to make some tough budget cuts that none of us want to make. As supervisors, we are charged with delivering services, many aimed at supporting our most fragile residents, in a fiscally responsible manner. This will be a complicated balancing act made significantly more difficult by state mandates that come despite reduced state funding.
The county has implemented a hiring freeze and directed staff to prepare reduced department budgets. These are necessary measures that recognize the likelihood of lower revenues in 2008. The details of how the state's budget will affect the county will not be clear until later this summer, so for now we must focus on what we can control now and figure out how to do more with less.
As always, I welcome your comments and ideas. Please feel free to contact me through my Brentwood office at 240-7260 or by e-mail at email@example.com and we will be responsive to your needs.
Mary Nejedly Piepho