Editor’s Note: The headline was updated to reflect board approval of grand jury extension on June 9.
MADERA — The Madera County Board of Supervisors this week will consider extending the term of the current Grand Jury, which has been idled for nearly three months now by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 1, the Supervising Judge of the Madera County Grand Jury, Michael J. Jurkovich, sent a letter to County Counsel requesting an extension to the current term of the Grand Jury due to the impacts of COVID-19 — and the resulting temporary suspension of the Grand Jury’s activities.
After receiving the request from the judge, Regina Garza, Madera County Counsel, worked with the Superior Court’s executive officer to draft a resolution extending the term of the current Grand Jury to December 31, 2020.
“Penal Code section 905.5 permits the Board of Supervisors to transition the Grand Jury from a fiscal-year term to a calendar-year term, and vice versa,” Garza said in a staff report given to supervisors in advance of Tuesday’s regular board meeting. “Under this Resolution, the term of the current Grand Jury would be transitioned from a fiscal-year term to a calendar-year term, permitting it until December 31, 2020 to complete its work –unless discharged earlier by the Court upon completion of its tasks,” Garza said.
Under the revised plan, which supervisors are expected to OK, no Grand Jury would be seated from January 1, 2021 through June 30, 2021 — and the next Grand Jury would serve from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, having transitioned back to the traditional fiscal-year term.
The Madera County Grand Jury is empaneled to “guard the public interest,” giving citizens of Madera County a means to participate in the affairs of their local government.
California’s Constitution and laws require the appointment every year of a Grand Jury for each county. In Madera County the court appoints nineteen grand jurors each year. They serve as an official body of the Court with independent authority that is not answerable to administrators or legislators.
Also scheduled for this week’s board meeting: Supervisors will review and likely approve a so-called “continuation budget” that will allow the County to temporarily delay adoption of a final 2020-21 Fiscal Year budget for several months until the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic become more clear.
“The delay will allow for more clarity on the projected revenue reductions for the new fiscal year,” County Finance Director Joel Bugay said in a staff report to the board. “[The delay] will also allow the CAO (Jay Varney, the new county administrative officer), in collaboration with all department heads, to identify the necessary budget reductions that will be recommended during the September budget hearings.”
Last month, supervisors decided to postpone the County’s annual budget hearings for three months due to the pandemic. Madera County’s new fiscal year begins July 1 and the continuation budget will allow departments to operate from July 1 until adoption of a final budget, now expected to take place in September.