San Diego County administration building
The historic San Diego County administration building. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a $7.35 billion budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, including $200 million in additional funding requests.

Part of the increase will go toward hiring more county employees, wildfire reduction efforts, and park or community center projects.

Board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said budgets aren’t just buckets of money, but “a reflection of values,” which include better public safety and behavioral health services, sustainability, and more affordable housing.

“This is the most progressive and working-family-focused budget passed during my time here as a member of the Board of Supervisors,” Fletcher said in a statement.

Helen Robbins-Meyer, county administrative officer, said county staff has spent the last six months putting together “what I think is our best budget ever.”

Robbins-Meyer said that while advancing both community and county values, “this is a fiscally sound, balanced budget that maintains prudent reserves.”

According to a release from Fletcher’s office, budget highlights include nearly $225 million for health care and homelessness:

  • $71.8 million will fund 115 new positions for the ongoing transformation of the behavioral health system, moving from crisis response to prevention and continuous care;
  • $11.9 million from one-time stimulus funds to develop affordable housing to reduce homelessness;
  • a $10-million increase to help those experiencing homelessness by working with cities to fund shelters and places for people to stay,
  • more than $130 million for health care in county jails.

Other parts of the budget support positions in social services:

  • 100 new jobs for Child Welfare Services to support placements for children in care, improve prevention services and connect families to community-based services;
  • 100 new positions for services including Calfresh and Medi-Cal,
  • 60 new positions for in-home supportive services for older adults and people who are blind or disabled.

In addition, the supervisors approved an increase of $2.2 million to reduce wildfire risk in unincorporated areas through roadside vegetation management and fire breaks and nearly $60 million for environmental improvements.

The environmental work includes $40 million to address stormwater, $16.3 million for the Multiple Species Conservation Program and $3.4 million to improve the Tijuana River Valley.

In early May, the county released its recommended $7.1 billion budget, with significant investments in mental health, homelessness, equity, racial justice and climate change.

The budget called for adding 1,000 staff across stated “priority areas.” In terms of staffing, the budget covers four specific groups: public safety (the largest), followed by health and human services, land use and environment and general government.

Earlier in the budget process, supervisors heard funding requests from department leaders and the public at large. Before Tuesday’s vote, supervisors praised residents, Robbins-Meyer and her colleagues, and department leaders for their input in crafting the new budget, which takes effect July 1.

Nora Vargas, board vice chairwoman, said public feedback makes a big difference, and was pleased with the addition of more funding for legal services to low-income households, homeless shelters and improvements to the Tijuana River Valley.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the last year and half around transformative policies,” including environmental justice, she said.

Vargas added that, having been an advocate prior to holding an elected office, one of her roles is making sure the public understands there’s a team working on its behalf.

It’s also important for supervisors to “keep asking tough questions” and demand accountability for county government, including themselves, Vargas said.

Her colleague Jim Desmond singled out more money for additional firefighters to battle wildfires, along with a twin-engine helicopter to help them, as budget highlights. He also praised an amicable resolution with public sector unions on compensation.

“It’s a solid budget, first and foremost” that also helps those in need and recruits a strong workforce, while maintaining the county’s financial reserves, Desmond said.

Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said that last year, she and her fellow board members were “off to a very fast start” with new programs and policies and that “this year’s budget went far in reflecting core values such as sustainability and equity.”

“We can meet all year long and say all sorts of things on this dais, but none of them matter if they’re not reflected in how we allocate our resources and our staffing,” she added.

Supervisor Joel Anderson said the budget “delivers to the county across the board. Everybody rises with this tide.”

City News Service

Updated 4:15 p.m. June 28, 2022