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County begins public hearings on 2019-20 budget

REGION — The San Diego County Board of Supervisors today reviewed the 2019-20 fiscal year budget and heard from the public during the first of several hearings on the $6.21 billion recommended spending plan.

The budget proposal includes $112 million in new spending to help those suffering from mental illness and substance abuse or experiencing homelessness, and children in the foster care system, and also covers public safety costs, pensions, training programs and the county Fire Authority.

Broken down, the $6.21 billion includes $2 billion for public safety, $2.3 billion for health and human services, $1.3 billion for finance and general government and $651 million for land use and environment.

The budget is $59.7 million below the 2018-19 fiscal year because of reduced spending for one-time capital projects, but money for ongoing programs would increase by $322.2 million, according to the county.

Other social service-related highlights include:
— adding $50.3 million to the Behavioral Health Division — including 123 new positions, putting $25.3 million into walk-in services for mental health outpatients and funding 70 Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams — for a total of $708.5 million;
— $103 million for capital projects, including Live Well Centers, parks, trails, a fire station and renovation project for the historic County Administration Center, and;
— an additional $12.4 million for housing, and doubling the housing trust fund to $50 million.

Helen Robbins-Meyer, the county’s chief administrative officer, said that in some ways the budget looks the same, “but when you dive in you see significant changes.”

As one example, she cited the county’s consolidation of its business groups from five to four, which will allow for several million dollars of management overhead savings to be redirected into surplus property housing and community choice on energy.

Robbins-Meyer said the county has carefully looked at spending and is able to make increases without jeopardizing it fiscal health.

“This is a fiscally prudent budget,” she added.

She thanked the hundreds of residents who offered budget feedback in 40 community meetings.

“You, your district staffs and our team have been listening to and translating those needs into specific budget recommendations,” she said. “We greatly appreciate having an energized citizenry.”

During the hearing, five people made various requests for budget consideration, including an improved audit system for county elections, and funding to study human trafficking and for gang prevention.

Kim McDougal, executive director of YMCA Childcare Resource Service, asked the board to consider more funding for targeted childcare.

“High-quality, affordable and widely available childcare impacts a community’s success,” she said, adding that the YMCA can work with the county to create a program.

Kalei Levy, policy and programs coordinator with the Downtown San Diego Partnership, said her organization is grateful to see the county including $12.4 million for affordable housing, new employees, 177 beds and enhanced grant funding.

The next budget hearing will be at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the county Administration Building, 1600 Pacific Highway. A formal vote on the budget is set for June 25.

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