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New San Diego County Budget To Focus On Homelessness, Mental Health

Homeless people stand among their items along 17th Street in San Diego, Sept....

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Homeless people stand among their items along 17th Street in San Diego, Sept. 19, 2017.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a $6.25 billion annual budget that includes more money for mental health treatment, aid for the homeless and juvenile justice.

Broken down, the fiscal year 2019-20 spending plan 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.

Ebony Shelton, director of the Office of Financial Planning, said there is also more money for additional law enforcement, emergency public health issues, public assistance and for an environmental grant writer. She added that the county can also offer wildfire prevention incentives to homeowners, more immigrant services and emergency housing for people in need.

Supervisors agreed on a new strategy for dealing with those in mental health crisis around the region. It includes setting up community-based crisis intervention centers.

North County Supervisor Jim Desmond called for a plan to invest $14 million in a new mental health unit at Tri-City hospital, which closed all its crisis stabilization beds last year. Other board members agreed, but said the investment must be offered to any hospital willing to accept the opportunity.

In all, the county board approved nearly $24 million in behavioral health funding. Without further action, the number of beds for people experiencing a mental health crisis in North County would shrink from 58 last year to 12 next year.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said that with its emphasis on better social services, the budget is a "strong step in the right direction," and shows that county officials listened to the public. Earlier this month, supervisors heard from residents who asked for money for immigrant services, more affordable housing and support for seniors.

RELATED: San Diego County Supervisors Vote For Better Mental Health Care, Crisis Centers

Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said the budget shows that "bold ideas are being turned into action." Jacob said she's pleased with the additions to the budget and more staff, but emphasized it requires results and holding people accountable.

Supervisor Greg Cox said that when he joined the board in 1995, the county was in bad financial shape, with crumbling facilities. The latest budget reflects the changing realities, he added.

Supervisor Jim Desmond said his district, especially in unincorporated areas, is getting $23 million worth of capital projects, including fire stations and a new river park.

He added that he's glad the budget contains an additional $21 million for pension stabilization. Total county pension costs are expected to increase $933 million by fiscal early 2025, and "we need to put real money into the future," Desmond said.

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