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San Diego County's Proposed $5 Billion Budget Goes Before The Public
May 8, 2013 12:45 p.m.
Greg Cox, Chair, San Diego County Supervisor, (District 1)
CAVANAUGH: The San Diego County budget process is in full swing. The county Board of Supervisors voted to begin public hearings in June on the $5 billion spending plan. The supervisors pride themselves on managing a tight fiscal ship. But this new budget does include $110million spending increase. Joining me is my guest, Greg Cox, Chair of the County Board of Supervisors. Welcome to the program.
COX: Great to be here with you.
CAVANAUGH: Can you explain to us how the budgeting process at the county works? You budget two years out; is that right?
COX: Yeah, we have a 2-year operational budget. So we always want to know what we're going to be doing this current fiscal year. But we also want to know generally where we're going to be one year out. So it's provided a lot more stability to the counties and we don't have as many surprises as you have when you go from year to year.
CAVANAUGH: There's an increase in the overall budget, up about 2.5% over last year. Why do the supervisors think now is the time for a boost in spend something
COX: Well, if of it is related to the revenues that we receive. We expect to have a small increase in the property tax, about 1% this next year. And I think we also are anticipating because of realignment, AB-109, and the new responsibilities we have, there's going to be some increase in the funding realignment. And additional responsibilities we're picking up in the area of health and human services. So we'll be getting some additional revenues from the state and federal sources for those programs.
CAVANAUGH: Does this reflect an optimistic attitude toward the general health of the San Diego economy?
COX: Well, it's definitely getting better. We're probably two years behind when the economy goes south, and probably about two years behind as it starts getting better. So yes, definitely this year is going to be better than last year as far as revenues and programs. We are adding staff. Particularly in the area of health and human services and obviously fully implementing the prison realignment. So it's a little more robust than last year. But 2.5% isn't a tremendous increase.
CAVANAUGH: Is that where most of this increase is going to go? Staffing levels?
COX: Yes. We are adding about 3.5% additional staff at the county. Our staffing level projected by this budget is $16,602. So it is a slight increase, and it's primarily because of taking on additional responsibilities in health and human services. Then we are also fully implementing the needs for staffing. We're going to be bringing online next year a replacement for the Las Calinas women's detention facility.
CAVANAUGH: Is there has been criticism for years now about the limited number of county staff to handle food stamp applications and other health and human services. How will these new positions help correct that problem?
COX: Well, some of the new positions in health and human services will be specifically focusing on the food stamp programs.
COX: Yes. We keep changing the name of it. And certainly we've made tremendous strides in improving percentage that is eligible for food stamps? San Diego County. We still have a lot of room for improvement. But I think we're going in the right direction. And we're encouraging people to call 211 if they have any social service needs. And the nice thing about 211 and they have a full compliment of all information of all the programs, not only offered by the county, but so many different social service agencies in this region. And they can actually sign people up on the phone to begin the process of securing eligibility for food stamps.
CAVANAUGH: I know some of the members of the Board of Supervisors rankled over the criticism of CalFresh or food stamp application, but you have basically consistently come out and said we need to get up to speed on this. How do you feel that we're doing now?
COX: Well, as I said, I think we're definitely making improvements. I think there's still room for more improvement. In San Diego County, we have over the last few years, a growing homeless population. It looks like it's gone down a little bit this last year in the census they took. But I think the last thing we want to see in San Diego County is anybody who is a child or even an adult, they shouldn't have to go hungry. Not in San Diego County, and not really anywhere in this country. And so I think the programs that we have are working toward trying to plug people into the services that are out there. Sometimes people are reluctant to sign up for food stamps for a variety of reasons. But the program is there, it's primarily funded by the federal government. And if they're eligible for it, we want to plug them into it want
CAVANAUGH: Now, this new budget proposal, it also allocates more money for job growth and county public safety positions. Where will those public safety positions be located?
COX: We're going to be opening up two different facilities next year. An additional 400 bed reentry facility at the east Otay Mesa detention facility. And that'll be to accommodate a lot of the prisoners that we are now having responsibilities for under realignment, people that are sentenced for any non-serious, nonviolent, or nonsexual related crime. We're almost at our max of jail beds. So we have 400 beds we're building out in east mesa. That will require additional staffing. And a much nicer facility. Probation is still in the process of hiring.
CAVANAUGH: Hiring, right.
COX: Getting more and more prisoners returning to the county, so we have more people in the Probation Department to deal with them.
CAVANAUGH: County officials were expressing great concern last year about whether or not they would actually see adequate money from the state to manage realignment responsibilities. Are we seeing that money from the state?
COX: The good news is that in prop 30 that was approved last year by the voters of California there was a provision that guaranteed a revenue stream to counties in California to reassume the responsibilities of the realignment of prisoners. And that's refreshing. So far we've seen some pretty decent growth. The concern is is that going to continue? We hope it does. But they are still working with a formula in regard to what the permanent allocation of those funds are going to be. There could be more or less comes to San Diego County as they put together a final formula to distribute the state revenues to cover those costs.
CAVANAUGH: I don't know if you were able to hear our first segment in the show today, but we were talking about fire risk and fire season in San Diego. There are any new funds allocated for fire-fighting in the county?
COX: We provide somewhere in the neighborhood of about $17million a year to assist fire-fighting in primarily the unincorporated areas to assist a lot of the smaller fire departments. Our San Diego County fire authority has been working on merging a number of the volunteer fire departments into the county fire authority, and our fire chief, the head of CAL FIRE in San Diego County. And I think that's been working very well. Diane Jacobs has done a lot of work in helping to put that together. And supervisor Horn has the other area of unincorporated areas. They have been working together to make sure we provide coverage to assist those smaller fire departments.
CAVANAUGH: There was a time when we actually rented a super scooper from Quebec, and it really worked out rather well. But then it became too expensive. Will that be worked into this budget again?
COX: You know, that was a 1-time allocation. The board came up with $3million to bring it in just for that one fire season. I think now that we've done a number of these other things, including having the fire authority and beefing up the staffing with year-round 24 hour coverage, I think we feel like we're much better prepared. Certainly having the super scooper was a nice thing to have. But given where we have gone now with the helicopters and frankly the next technology, supervisor Ron Roberts has provided a lot of leadership in regards to trying to maybe look, the next thing we may be focusing on is using some of the unmanned aerial --
CAVANAUGH: Drones, yeah. I've heard that.
COX: Drones to assist. And those probably have a better opportunity to catch these fires when they're small, and to be able to see through smoke and identify where the fires are. The technology is moving rapidly toward that type of an application.
CAVANAUGH: Now, one of the uncertainties mentioned by the county's chief administrative officer about the budget is the effects of sequestration. Of course those are the 10% across the board federal government cuts. In what ways could you imagine sequestration affect San Diego County's budget?
COX: Well, certainly no budget is without risks. And our risk is usually always directed toward Sacramento, making sure they don't dump new programs on us and not provide the revenues to cover those programs. This year, we have an added twist with sequestration. And I don't know that we have a good handle even right now on what the implications of that is going to be. We do know there will be less money coming into San Diego County for programs like Section 8 Vouchers. The that's going to be severely impacted in regards to the ability of the county to provide assistance to people in getting housing. Certainly the trickle-down effect as contractors don't get contracts they were anticipating, there's going to be a higher level of unemployment, which means there's going to be more people calling on county services, food stamps or housing assistance or mental health or physical health services that the county has an obligation to provide. So we're still kind of sorting that out. We do anticipate it is going to have a negative impact on the county in regard to a demand for more services than we've provided in the past.
CAVANAUGH: One area that the supervisors have taken a lot of heat on is on the discretionary funds that you have. Last time I checked in, you cut back from $2million a piece to $1million a piece. Does that remain in this budget?
COX: This is included in the budget. And putting it in the proper context, I think the $5million that is available to the supervisors, when you look at it, the supervisors have a $5billion budget that we're dealing with. $5 million for discretionary programs is like 100th of 1% of the total budget. And each supervisor has responsibilities for bringing that forward. And each supervisor is accountable for the programs that are funded. We've gotten things started for a new imperial beach library, and this year the budget includes another $8.4 million for a new library. I'm certainly willing to stand by the allocations I've made as I'm sure each supervisor is.
CAVANAUGH: I want everybody listening to know that they will have a chance to weigh in on this budget, right? You're going to have public hearings in June.
COX: Yes, the budget deliberations will start on June 10, and that'll start the process. If anybody has any questions or concerns, they can call my office or get on the county website to find out the full schedule of hearings.
CAVANAUGH: All right then. Thanks so much.
COX: Thank you, Maureen.