SAN DIEGO - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an $8.17 billion 2023-24 budget today, following deliberations on more than $60 million in revisions added since May.
Board Chairwoman Nora Vargas said the budget ``uplifts communities in an equitable manner,'' with an emphasis on tackling the homelessness and opioid crises and support for mental health programs, young people and senior citizens.
The revised budget adds $60.6 million to the May plan. The overall budget constitutes an 11% increase -- or $806.4 million -- over 2022's approved spending.
The revised budget includes another 50 staff positions, with the majority assigned to the county initiative of removing barriers to housing. The 0.2% increase brings the total county employees to 20,387.25 staff years, an increase of 539.75 staff years from last year.
According to the proposal, the increase in both budget and staff will go toward supporting ``new and expanded social service programs and increasing case loads to assist vulnerable populations.'' It also includes investments in infrastructure, such as a new Public Health Lab and affordable housing projects, according to the county.
The revised plan also features more spending for special election costs, an upgrade to the regional communication system, two mobile service center vehicles for the Probation Department, road safety improvements and more.
Some highlights of the budget include:
-- $18.3 million for implementation of the CARE Act, a state program for people with serious behavioral health issues that may provide services, shelter and treatment through a civil court proceeding;
-- a $25 million increase for the Innovative Housing Trust Fund to help build affordable housing;
-- $2.7 million to restore land and improve water quality in the Tijuana River Valley;
-- $12.8 million for court programs to ``support those with mental health, substance use and other needs,'' such as Collaborative Courts, Drug Courts, Mandatory Supervision Courts, Reentry Courts, Veterans Courts and Behavioral Health Courts;
-- a $141.1 million increase for safety net benefit payments, higher wages for In-Home Supportive Services caregivers, additional employment services and training for CalWORKS and CalFresh recipients and expanding Info Line 211 Access;
-- $17 million to build a Jacumba Fire Station; and
-- $35.6 million to build a Santee Animal Shelter.
Supervisors heard from the public Tuesday before voting on the budget. Earlier this month, the county held two public hearings where residents offered their own budget requests, ranging from scaling down a planned community park in Alpine to more funding for a fresh food program.
Helen Robbins-Meyer, outgoing chief administrative officer, stressed on Tuesday that even with the year-over-year increase, ``this budget is fiscally prudent. I'm not jeopardizing the fiscal health of our county.''
Robbins-Meyer thanked county department leaders, staff and supervisors for their work in crafting the budget during a challenging year. She offered one caveat: ``We are pushing up against our fiscal limits,'' she said, referring to a possible future economic downturn.
She added that community partners must understand that the county may have to dampen its expectations during the next budget process.
Terra Lawson-Remer, board vice chair, said the new budget ``represents a lot of incredibly urgent priorities.''
Supervisor Jim Desmond echoed Robbins-Meyer's concerns about future economic challenges. ``We need to exercise caution,'' he said, referring to the projected state budget deficit.
Whatever the challenges, Desmond said the county has increased its programs and services, properly funded law enforcement and its park system, and adopted fair contracts for employees.
Supervisor Joel Anderson thanked his colleagues, department leaders and employees ``for putting our constituents first.''
``It wasn't an easy process, but we all got there'' said Anderson, who said the budget was a high note for Robbins-Meyer. Anderson added that he was ``super-excited'' to have a half-million dollars to fight opioid abuse in his district.
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