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Floodplains part of blame for $12 million budget gap in Sutter County

Sutter County facing $12 million budget deficit, creating challenges other counties may not face
Sutter County facing $12 million budget deficit, creating challenges other counties may not face 02:59

SUTTER COUNTY — A $12 million budget deficit in any county is not ideal, but for Sutter County, a shortfall of this size comes with a few unique challenges other counties may not face.

By law, Sutter County must have a balanced budget, and a hiring freeze is now in effect to help in the short term.

Sutter County anticipated a budget shortfall back in 2022. They put Measure A on the ballot locally for a 1% countywide sales tax but it failed.

"At that time, we put out a lot of information about a $12 million budget gap in a few years and now we're seeing about that. We've reduced this year's budget by $11 million," said Sutter County Administrator Steven Smith.

The way they did that is by putting a hiring freeze on all vacant county positions which accounts for nearly 20% of jobs.

"We're close to Sacramento where we have to compete in the Sacramento market for employees," he said. "Thankfully, at this point, because of our great number of vacancies, we haven't had to lay anyone off, but if those positions had been filled, there probably would've been."

On the way to Sutter County from Sacramento, you can see that it's just floodplains. There's nowhere to stop and nowhere to eat, and this is part of the reason they are having such a hard time with their budget.

"A lot of land, a lot of openings where there can be housing, there could be restaurants," said Sutter County resident Yolanda Toliver.

However, Toliver said that "you can't because it's right on the line where the flooding and everything is." And she's right. The land isn't viable for development.

Nearly 70% of the county is floodplains. It's the highest percentage in the state. Yolo County comes in second with its percentage of floodplains falling in the mid to upper 30s.

"The reason that's a big deal is because, especially FEMA floodplains, you can't build on them unless you elevate a foot above the base flood level," Smith said.

The Sutter County floodplains make that almost impossible and far too costly. So, because of its location, the county is missing out on revenue from developments and commercial properties.

"In the unincorporated areas, even if it's out of the floodplain, to be attractive for a large business to come you have to have infrastructure ready—electrical, sewage, water—and we just don't have that," Smith said.

Sutter County said that because of the budget gap, people could experience longer wait times and slower services. The next step could be closing down the library and museum an extra day a week.

"That should be fair to freeze everything until they can find an accurate solution to the problem," Toliver said.

Sutter County said there are a few identified spots outside of the floodplains that are viable for development and they're working on capitalizing on those. As more information becomes available, we will keep you updated on what those projects look like.

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