What Are County Board's Spending Priorities?
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May 14, 2010 – The County Board of Supervisors unveiled its budget plan for the upcoming year, and it calls for $145 million in cuts and the elimination of nearly 600 positions. We speak to KPBS reporter Joanne Faryon about why the budget is being reduced, and what programs are on the chopping block.
Related story: What Are County Board's Spending Priorities?
GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week, the county Board of Supervisors unveiled its budget plan for the upcoming year. It calls for $145 million in cuts and the elimination of nearly 600 positions. We speak to KPBS reporter Joanne Faryon about why the budget is being reduced, and what programs are on the chopping block. Welcome, Joanne. JOANNE FARYON (KPBS News): Thanks, Gloria. PENNER: Alright, let’s start off with the why. Why is the county board planning to spend less than last year? FARYON: Well, they're spending $145 million less, but the reason is not entirely clear as to why. I went to Tuesday’s board meeting where Walt Eckhart – he’s the chief administrative officer for the county – presented this budget proposal and described the economic downturn, a decrease in property taxes, sales taxes, and also implied that the state was giving the county less money. And we’re talking about a $5 billion budget here. So $145 million less in a $5 billion dollar budget. When we go to the actual proposed operational plan it doesn’t add up. I have to tell you, looking at this, yes property taxes are decreasing by about $25 million dollars. The state is actually increasing revenue to the county according to this proposal, although we know that the governor may change that. Today he did do his May revise and it’s expected to trickle down to the county in terms of cuts. However, the day this was presented the state was still increasing money. The biggest reason we see a decrease in terms of that $145 million is the county has what's called a fund balance and it’s like a savings account. PENNER: What exactly is it used for? FARYON: Well, it’s for one-time expenditures. Things like buying new computers, upgrading your technology. So the county proposes to spend $100 million less in that fund. So $100 million less of its savings account. PENNER: So that’s where the reduction comes in. FARYON: That’s a big part of the reduction. PENNER: Isn’t that interesting? And yet, the headlines focused on the board's plan to eliminate 600 positions. I mean, so cutting 600 positions? FARYON: Right, it looks like a restructuring. 600 positions are going to be eliminated. A lot of them are positions that are already vacant. There are some people still slated for layoffs, but they're trying to find them jobs. But in terms of… And there are various departments who will have their individual budgets cut. But on a macro level looking at the budget, the biggest source of reduction is in that fund balance. PENNER: Ok. So we know that the county gets money from the state. But it does have some control over some of that money, doesn’t it? FARYON: That’s right. So about 80 percent of the budget, or $4 billion, is mandated by federal and state programs. In other words, the federal and state government gives the county money and says, 'You must do this with your money.' Those are things like social services programs, when we hear about food stamps. They range from making sure all of the restaurants are inspected, to keeping animals in shelters, to providing those kinds of services. About 20 percent of the budget, however, the board has control over. A lot of that money in that 20 percent comes from property taxes. I want to point out that this year compared to last year, that 20 percent, that part of the budget is increasing. The board actually has another $4 million dollars to spend. Last year they had $950 million. This year it’s $954 million. PENNER: OK. So in other words your new Envision series is going to go into this a little more deeply, right? FARYON: That’s right. PENNER: OK. And how does the – just explain once again how does the new budget compare to last year’s budget? FARYON: We see a pattern. And the pattern in terms of how the board spends this money is most of it, or more than half of it goes to public safety. Fifty-four percent last year, they're proposing 56 percent this year. That’s the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s department. What we’ve seen in this proposal the state is cutting from that area of the budget; however, the county is saying OK we’re going to spend more on that. They're spending less on health and human services. Only about 6.6% of that budget is going to health and human services. PENNER: You did an interview with Supervisor Pam Slater. FARYON: That’s right. So I interviewed all five supervisors, Pam Slater-Price is the chairwoman of the board. I asked her to describe her priorities and here’s what she had to say. PAM SLATER-PRICE (San Diego County Board of Supervisors): The number one concern that our residents have is to be safe. They don't want to feel as though when they go out on the street their life is going to be taken in their own hands. They don't want to fear being kidnapped or robbed or assaulted in any other way. If they are a woman they don't want to fear being raped. They want to feel that they are being protected and looked after. And that is our board's philosophy. That is our number one project. FARYON: And how would you rank health and human services in terms of board priorities? SLATER-PRICE: Well I think health and human services is its own category, but you can't provide… If you're giving health and human services money which comes primarily from state and federal sources, not local sources, then the people that are receiving those services also want to be safe. PENNER: So what's the end result for local residents if the county is cutting health and human services? FARYON: There will be a cut in services. Nick Macchione is the director of that department, Health and Human Services Agency, for the county. He also presented at Tuesday’s board meeting, and here’s an excerpt of how he describes the impact of the cuts. NICK MACCHIONE (SD County Health & Human Services): Two programs that provide services to at-risk children and teens are being proposed for elimination. They include the Juvenile Diversion Program and the Children's Initiative. We are also proposing that other GPR-funded programs be reduced including our domestic violence program, 211 San Diego, and various programs within our agencies' Alcohol and Drug Services department. For the first time in over a decade the agency's fiscal year 10/11 proposed operational plan is decreasing from the current fiscal year. PENNER: OK. So what are some of the other issues that you plan to cover in your next Envision documentary? FARYON: We’re going to look at how the county board of supervisors spends your money. We’re going to tell you who they are, who those supervisors are and what they stand for. PENNER: OK, well we’ll be looking forward to it. Thank you very much. For more information about our Envision project, "Who's Supervising San Diego," go to KPBS.org/Envision. The documentary will air Wednesday, June 2nd at 8 p.m. right here on KPBS-TV.