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County proposes $5.06 billion budget


Last updated 5/22/2014 at Noon

The proposed County of San Diego budget for fiscal year 2014-15 is $5.06 billion, which is a 1.6 percent increase over the $4.98 billion budget for 2013-14.

The unanimous San Diego County Board of Supervisors action May 6 was to receive the recommended operational plan and set June 9 as the day to begin the public hearings.

“We’re not rich. We never thought we were rich. But we try to effectively get things done with what we have,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts.

“Our biggest risk continues to be the slow economic recovery,” said county Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer. “We have to prioritize.”

The proposed budget allocates $1,909.9 million for the county’s Health and Human Services group, $1,626.6 million for the Public Safety Group, $417.5 million for the Land Use and Environment Group, $383.6 million for the Finance and General Government Group, $324.1 million for the Community Services Group, $322.2 million for debt financing, and $81.7 million for capital projects.

The expenditures include $1,908.3 million for salaries and benefits. The county’s 17,037 staff years budgeted for 2014-15 would be an increase of 410, or 2.5 percent, over 2013-14. The increase includes a 6.4 percent gain in Health and Human Services Agency staff members from 5,614 to 5,794.

“Many things that we have to do have caused that number to go up,” Robbins-Meyer said. “We measure and we monitor all of these things and hold ourselves accountable for finding solutions.”

A county government (and its associated staff) serves two functions. The first is as an agent of the state for both incorporated cities and unincorporated communities. Notable roles in this capacity include the Registrar of Voters, the court and correctional systems, the tax collector, the county recorder, public health, environmental health, and the Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures (which includes agriculture in cities as well as unincorporated areas and also assures the accuracy of scales and gas pumps throughout the county).

The county’s other function is as the substitute for a city council (and city staff) for unincorporated communities. This includes planning and land use, roads, flood control, parks, libraries, and law enforcement. The county also operates eight airports, two of which are in incorporated cities, and several cities contract with the county for library or law enforcement services.

The county’s role as agent of the state makes some of its funding subject to state mandates. Assembly Bill 109, which transferred incarceration responsibility for non-violent inmates from the state to local government, still has no permanent funding source. “Cost impacts must continue to be closely monitored,” Robbins-Meyer said.

Additional revenues are dedicated for purposes for which they are collected, and much of the county’s discretionary funding is spent on public safety.

The Public Safety Group budget includes a net increase of 27 staff years, or 0.4 percent, including a net increase of 32 staff years in the Sheriff’s Department and 11 staff years for the office of the District Attorney. The Probation Department budget would be decreased by 23 staff years due to decreases in juvenile detention populations and offenders under community supervision.

The Public Safety Group budget also increases San Diego County Regional Fire Authority staffing by five full-time positions. The SDCRFA budget itself would decrease 13.0 percent from $25.1 million to $21.8 million due to the expiration of a $5.3 million grant to remove dead, dying, and diseased trees and of $700,000 in other grants and to the one-time purchases of $700,000 in fiscal year 2013-14.

The Land Use and Environment Group includes the Department of Public Works, whose staff hours would remain at 500 and whose budget is slated for a 1.9 percent increase from $218.3 million to $222.4 million.

The specific projects include $250,000 to purchase a closed-circuit television system which will document the condition of culverts under county-maintained roads, $250,000 for the county’s share to produce a comprehensive flood forecast model for bridges crossing rivers and key tributaries, $100,000 to develop a website with historical and real-time automated flood warning data, and $50,000 to install web cameras at Cole Grade Road on the San Luis Rey River and at DeLuz Road on DeLuz Creek.

The Community Services Group includes the County Library department. During fiscal year 2014-15, July 4 will fall on a Friday while Christmas and New Year’s Day will be on Thursdays, so holiday closures rather than budget issues create a decrease in total hours open from 89,774 to 89,700.

Library staff years would remain at 270 while the budget would increase 3.6 percent from $36.0 million to $37.2 million. The increase would include an additional $1 million to purchase books and other library materials while $300,000 of facilities cost savings and $600,000 for 2013-14 major maintenance account for decreases in the budget.

A capital budget only includes money appropriated for that fiscal year and does not include projects already under way for which money had previously been authorized. The largest capital expenditure would be $50 million for the new Sheriff’s crime lab, which has a total estimated cost of $104.8 million for both the facility and for relocation of the county’s fleet maintenance operations.

A $10 million appropriation for the Multiple Species Conservation Program accommodates plans to acquire more than 500 acres of land for the MSCP, and $9.8 million has been budgeted for the new Borrego Springs library branch.

“Being a world-class government is not a destination. It is a journey,” Robbins-Meyer said.

Board of Supervisors chair Dianne Jacob noted that county staff produced a fiscally-responsible budget. “We are unique in that regard,” she said.

“We’re different in a lot of different ways. We have a real team effort,” Jacob said.

The public hearing opportunity includes written comment as well as the June 9-10 Board of Supervisors hearing on Community Enhancement program grants funded by the county’s Transient Occupancy Tax revenue and a Board of Supervisors hearing on other budget items which will begin June 11 and be continued if public speakers extend that session into the late afternoon. The public hearing will close on June 18, and the county supervisors will begin budget deliberations June 24.


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