County Wins Award for Saving Tax Dollars

May 17, 2012 | 2:07pm

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association honored the County Wednesday night with a Grand Golden Watchdog award for saving taxpayers nearly $1.5 billion.

The County won the award for its Capital Improvement Program, which has paid $872 million in cash for millions of square feet of new infrastructure projects. By avoiding interest on the projects, the county will save the public about $1.46 billion over the next 30 years. At the same time, the projects will create an estimated 18,000 new jobs through 2016.

“Paying in cash just makes sense and reflects the County’s business-like approach,” said County Chief Administrative Officer Walt Ekard, who accepted the award along with County Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Greg Cox and Chief Financial Officer Don Steuer.

About a decade ago, the County determined that much of its infrastructure would need to be replaced in the coming years. To help pay for it, during the housing market boom of the mid-2000s when assessed values were rising at double-digit rates, County officials kept budgeting at a conservative rate and set aside additional revenue. That enabled the County to pay for much of the new capital projects in cash, rather than with bond proceeds. None of this would have been possible without prudent financial planning and management by the Board of Supervisors and County management staff as reflected in the County’s stellar credit ratings.

The long list of capital projects includes: 10 libraries, an animal shelter, juvenile and adult detention facilities, two sheriff’s stations, three assessor buildings, a new medical examiner building, an upgraded County Operations Center, a 12-acre waterfront park, 20,000 acres of open space/parkland, 20 new sports fields, five new community centers/gymnasiums and two new teen centers.

This is the same program that several news media have misreported on recently.

The County was one of four finalists in the Grand Golden Watchdog award category. Other finalists included the City of San Diego, multiple agencies including the North County Transit District and 11 cities, and the Port of San Diego. There were nine overall awards distributed, including two Golden Watchdog awards. Giving this award to the County again demonstrates that it is one of the best run agencies in the region.

The Golden Watchdog awards recognize “programs that exemplify efficient use of tax dollars and good governance,” according to a release by association. On the flip side, other categories recognized government programs and services that “exemplify the wasteful, inefficient or downright absurd use of taxpayer dollars.”

The Taxpayers Association recognized the County with this year’s highest honor at its 17th Annual Goldens Awards Dinner, held at the Town and Country Resort & Conference Center in Mission Valley.