New Budget Goes Before County Supervisors

The County Board of Supervisors has a new Operational Plan and budget in hand for its review.

The recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2015-16 was introduced to the Board at its Tuesday meeting by Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The recommended County budget of $5.4 billion shows an increase of $312 million, or 6 percent, from the current budget. State and federal revenues increased by $122 million and the recovering local housing market is expected to bring a $57 million boost in property taxes.

The increase in dollars means the County can maintain core services and programs, add new ones and continue moving ahead in its goal to be the best in the nation.  

“From maintaining healthy reserves, to our AAA credit rating, to our low debt/pay-as-you-go capital philosophy to our disciplined approach to addressing our maintenance needs and early risk identification, this budget maintains our unwavering commitment to being good stewards of the public’s money,” Robbins-Meyer said.  

Public safety and health services together account for the bulk of the budget and much of the spending changes this year. Among the key areas:

More than $50 million would upgrade the regional communications system used by first responders across the region to communicate during disasters.

Final funding of $54.9 million is slated for the Sheriff’s new crime lab, a 150,000-square-foot facility to house the Crime Lab, Property and Evidence Unit, and Central Investigations Division offices, scheduled to open in 2018 at the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa. The Sheriff’s Regional Crime Lab provides forensic science services to more than 30 law enforcement agencies and helps solve thousands of crimes each year, including hundreds using DNA technology. Currently, this high-tech work takes place in a facility more than 50 years old; the new space will save on maintenance costs and place Sheriff’s detectives in the same building as the Crime Lab, with the Medical Examiner right next door.

While the County is successfully managing Public Safety Realignment, which shifted the responsibility for jailing and supervising many criminals from the state to counties, the District Attorney’s Office will hire seven people and the Public Defender’s Office another five to handle the implementation of Proposition 47, which downgraded certain crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.  

Meantime, diversion and comprehensive services for juvenile offenders have been so successful, fewer youth are on probation in the community and fewer are in custody at County juvenile facilities. To help advance this trend, funding has been set aside to keep young people out of juvenile hall in the first place by strengthening the family. Issues like domestic violence, human trafficking and elder abuse will also be addressed.

The budget plan includes increases in fire protection. They would pay for new and upgraded fire stations and equipment, and more than $1 million would improve paramedic services in the backcountry.

On the health front, an additional $3.5 million will be used to treat people in psychiatric crisis that would otherwise need hospitalization. Then $2.3 million will go toward implementing Laura’s Law, which allows court-ordered outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illness. Another $1.6 million will expand Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams, which put licensed clinicians together with specially trained officers on patrol together.

Family Stabilization and Subsidized Employment programs, helping families become self-sufficient through CalWORKs participation, will be boosted by $4 million.  

Staff will also be added to the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs division to augment outreach and education services to veterans.

Beyond public safety and health issues, the operational plan reflects the County’s commitment to improving the region’s quality of life.

The budget sets aside $10 million for open space under the Multiple Species Conservation Program. More than $14 million will be spent on capital improvements to County parks: from a new nature center at Santa Ysabel to photovoltaic systems, artificial turf and cabins.                 

The budget also allows for an additional $1 million for new library books and materials, Sunday hours at the 4S Ranch library branch and the fourth 24/7 Library to Go kiosk. Construction will continue on the County’s first Zero Net Energy Library in Alpine and the new Imperial Beach library. Plans are underway to build a new library in Borrego Springs along with an adjacent community park.

Other construction projects are in the works but maintaining the County’s infrastructure remains a constant. Some $24 million will go toward maintaining roads in the unincorporated area for repaving, repairing culverts and guardrails, and slurry sealing our roads. Additionally, $13.3 million is budgeted for road reconstruction and improvements, $1.3 million for new sidewalks and pathways, $1.8 million for traffic signal improvements, $6.6 million in intersection improvements, $3.2 million for drainage improvements and $8.5 million to ensure that County bridges remain structurally sound and safe for public use.

There is much, much more included in the proposed operational plan and details are available online.

Public hearings on the proposed budget begin June 1 and budget deliberations are scheduled for June 23. Final adoption of the plan is scheduled for Aug. 4.