San Diego County's Chief Administrative Officer said at a budget review meeting Monday while revenue is down, unemployment is up, sending the need for community services to an all-time high.
"This is not a typical budget," Chief Administration Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer said. "The county faces unprecedented challenges."
Because the county is required to have a balanced budget, planning has its limits, and "we can't continue all levels of service indefinitely," she added.
The $6.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2020-21 is 2.5% higher from last year's budget -- an increase of $159 million -- and includes about $100 million in CARES Act funding the county received from the federal government for COVID-19 efforts. The current budget plan also includes dipping in the county's reserves to fill the $231 million in revenue gaps as a result of the economic downturn.
On Monday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors heard from several residents on where they thought the money should go. A major theme of this year's budget discussions was reform in the criminal justice systems in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
"COVID-19 didn’t create the underlying inequities in our society. It just really highlighted them and what we’re really seeing is communities of color, low-income communities and Latino communities really being hit much harder and I believe we have an obligation to move resources to try and meet that need," said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher.
The newly formed Human Relations Commission was allocated $5 million to establish an Office of Equity and Racial Justice. There has also been money allocated to build out mobile crisis response teams to help people with mental illness avoid incarceration.
"There has been a shift and realization that our sheriff's department and our jails are the biggest providers of mental health services right now and, quite frankly, they don’t have any mental health hospitals and things like that to serve all the people who need it," said Supervisor Jim Desmond. "It has fallen to the sheriff's and the sheriff's are law enforcement, they're jailers, they're not necessarily the best resource for health and human services."
The County's Public Safety Group also proposed increasing de-escalation training for law enforcement officers and prioritizing behavioral health treatment. The proposed budget also calls for a transformation of the juvenile justice system with investments in a Juvenile Justice Campus in Kearny Mesa and support for the District Attorney's Juvenile Diversion Initiative.
County leaders have described COVID-19 as their top budgetary priority, and proposed $100 million for a testing, tracing and treatment strategy, personal protective equipment and other resources to combat its spread. The economic downturn created by the pandemic has also affected other budget sectors, with county officials expected to dip into reserves, along with slowing or stopping non-essential services and projects in order to address revenue shortfalls.
According to a county executive summary, the proposed budget calls for
spending $2.46 billion for health and human services, slightly over $2
billion for public safety, $632 million for land use and environment, $774
million in the general government category, $105 million for capital projects
and $386 million for other financial needs.
The County Board of Supervisors also plans to hear public comments Wednesday August 12 at 5:30 P.M. THe budget hearings will close on August 19 and the supervisors are scheduled to adopt a new budget by August 25.
You can take a look at the proposed budget here.