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County’s Proposed Budget Shrinks By 2 Percent, But Staffing Will Increase

Aired 5/8/12 on KPBS News.

San Diego County’s budget for next year is smaller than this year’s, but it includes more than 170 new employees.

Next year’s $4.77 billion San Diego County budget is down 1.9 percent from this year’s spending plan, but staffing is up more than 3 percent.

The county’s chief financial officer Don Steuer explained that salaries and benefits are up about $36 million, but the budget for new construction is down by $90 million.

The county has completed a major new Operations Center in Kearny Mesa and a new women’s jail to replace Las Colinas. Next year’s capital projects include a new parking garage to replace parking around the administration building on Harbor Drive, which will become a waterfront park.

Steuer said a new building to house the Registrar of Voters in the new Operations Center has not yet been budgeted, but may be added later this year.

The departments that will see increased staffing are the Sheriff’s Department, Probation and Health and Human Services. The growth in these areas is in response to the state’s decision to shift responsibility for thousands of offenders to the county under realignment. Two thousand offenders have been added to the 14,000 adult offenders already monitored by the probation department.

The state has given the county $25 million for the first six months of that program, but it is as yet unclear whether San Diego will get the $60 million a year the state had promised going forward.

Nick Macchionne, head of Health and Human Services, said 700,000 San Diegans depend on benefits and services provided by his department. The department makes up about 40 percent of the county’s budget and has 5,000 employees.

The District Attorney’s office and land use planners will see their numbers shrink.

The county’s libraries will lose one employee, but hours of operation at the county’s libraries and parks will not be cut next year.

Two years ago, San Diego County cut more than 500 jobs. Steuer said that helped stabilize the finances.

“Two years ago we cut almost $50 million of general purpose revenues out of the budget,” he said. “We built subsequent year budgets that would not need additional cuts, so to say we’ve turned the corner, that’s one way of putting it, but bottom line is we’re carrying out the plan we made two years ago."

Steuer said the county will pay $346 million into its pension fund next year, up from $290 million this year. He said the losses sustained in 2008 mean the pension fund payments will continue to rise through 2015.

Public hearings on the plan begin on June 11.

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