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County Supervisor Stresses Serving Seniors In Annual Address

San Diego County Supervisor Diane Jacobs delivering the annual State of the County address, Feb 1., 2017.
Kris Arciaga
San Diego County Supervisor Diane Jacobs delivering the annual State of the County address, Feb 1., 2017.
County Supervisor Stresses Serving Seniors In Annual Address
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob outlined seven ways Wednesday to better serve the public in the annual "State of the County" address, including improving streets, building parks, tackling the pension problem, serving seniors, increasing technology, maintaining public safety and building bonds in the community.
County Supervisor Stresses Serving Seniors In Annual Address
County Supervisor Stresses Serving Seniors In Annual Address GUEST: Alison St John, North County reporter, KPBS

The state of the County address warns of tighter finances to come. This is KPBS , Midday Edition. I Maureen Cavanaugh. Our stop -- our top story, a bit of financial uncertainty that we heard in the state of the state speech was heard yesterday at the state of the County speech. Dianne Jacob, chair of the County Board of Supervisors warned about budget cuts. We may need to build together as never before. -- We may need to pull together as never before if these cuts go through. There may be changes in the health insurance marketplace. We may be looking at a $100 million hit to our budget. Jacobs also called for a reduction in benefits for future County employees and the appointment of a senior czar to oversee the needs of older San Diego's. Joining me is North County reporter, Allison St. John. Welcome. Glad to be here. Did the supervisor talk about any specific cuts? No. She was not specific. She was -- she did -- she had a note of caution on that fact that there may be cuts on the budget. She talked about how the gas tax has fallen, so they need $20 million from research -- reserve funds to fix roads. She talked about the endowment for more parks and a new tier of pension benefits, probably reduced benefits for future County employees. She did not specifically talk about cuts in her talk. What she did say what there could be $25 million from Jerry Brown's proposed cuts and $75 million if there is a move to discontinue the affordable care act. The off -- County often touts his balance budget. The supervisors are getting a raise. I am wondering. Was this talk about at hit to the budget a surprise? She started off by saying the budget is solidly in the black. There is a very healthy reserve. The County does still have an excellent crating rating. These appear to be sort of warnings on the horizon that there could be problems upcoming. It is kind of surprising that all five supervisors will get a $19,000 raise. Aside from the cuts,. County prioritization's. What are some of those? The thing Diane has made her own is silver -- services for the elderly. She makes a point that those over 65 will double in the next 20 years. About 62,000 seniors in San Diego has Alzheimer's or dementia already. That number will only increase. The number of seniors that are homeless has doubled. She is proposing to launch a pilot project with Rosemont Hospital which has a crisis in its emergency room with seniors being dumped there with families that don't know what to do. She also wants to have a new senior czar. Someone who would coordinate all the services. She says the reason the services are not effective is because there are uncoordinated. I have heard people question if it would be valuable to have more money to the psychiatric emergency teams. Rather than some top levels are. This is her initiative. She plans to introduce it in the near future. Following up on what you are saying, there are groups that are not too pleased with the state of the County address and its priorities. Tells about that. After the speech there was a rally with a couple thousand people from several different organizations. The initiatives have a report on how many families can make ends meet with basically did best living expenses. 33% cannot do that. That is about 270,000 families. They suggest the county needs to do more to make sure there is a living wage and trying to generate jobs that pay a living wage. Another group, the ACLU made the point that the county is still devoting more resources to punishment than prevention. There has been an 84% increase in mental health costs. More of these people end up in jail because we don't have the proper services. It is worth mentioning that the County did in fact assigned $59 million more last year to behavioral health including more money for these emergency response teams. From what I am hearing, they have not been very successful in increasing their numbers because they are having trouble finding qualified individuals to be on those teams. Gives some contacts on where the county board stands at this time. Are most of this supervisors, I think there going to be termed out. Is this first school -- fiscal conservative policy a tradition? Yes. They pride themselves on being one of the top counties for fiscal conservatives. That doesn't back save money when taking out bonds. The interest rates are much better if you have a good credit rating. On the other hand, it you could say they have enormous reserves which could be used to help those struggling in the county. Eight news report just said that Parvati -- poverty is worse than it was before the recession. I have been speaking with Allison St. John. Take you so much.

Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Dianne Jacob on Wednesday outlined seven ways to better serve the public in the annual "State of the County" address, including improving streets, building parks, tackling the pension problem, serving seniors, increasing technology, maintaining public safety and building bonds in the community.

"Sacramento and Washington are often snake pits. That's not us," Jacob said, referring to her colleagues on the board. "We're not about chaos, we're about competence. We're not about gridlock. We get things done."

Jacob said the board faces new and emerging challenges, but has come a long way.

"The state of our county is stronger today, more resilient, more financially sound, because when it matters most, we pull together," Jacob said. "And we may need to pull together this year like never before, if cuts and shifts at the state level proposed by Governor Brown go through."

The county budget may face a $100 million hit if Brown's state budget is approved and anticipated changes in California's health insurance marketplace are made, according to Jacob.

Related: Gov. Jerry Brown Delivers State Of The State Address Amid Shifting Politics

"Shift and shaft by the state is nothing new. We've seen it before," Jacob said. "And we stand ready to fight once again and we will fight back."

In her roughly 35-minute speech to a standing-room-only crowd at the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa, Jacob enumerated the seven areas that the board will focus on in 2017.

"Seven ways we can build an even better county government, seven ways that we can better serve the public and lay out a road map for the future," said Jacob, who is in her seventh four-year term on the board. "Seven ways we make sure we pass on a county government that serves the people and does the people proud."

The first item was maintaining the county's 2,000 miles of streets.

"We've got a big problem now where the rubber meets the road," she said. "Our main source of money for maintenance is running out."

The county's parks system was next on the list. She said the supervisors need to strip away barriers to building more parks.

Confronting the county's pension challenge was third. Jacob said recent changes to the system will save the pension fund $1 billion over the next 20 years.

Preparing for the so-called "silver surge" was another top priority, because residents aged 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the county, according to Jacob, and expected to double in 20 years.

Jacob said she will propose establishing a new position at the county that will be focused on serving the senior community and become the top advocate for the elderly.

“The person picked for this job would serve as our top advocate for the elderly, a sort of 'Senior Czar,' a big cheese and head honcho,” Jacob said. "A high-profile leader is needed to make sure that all the appropriate arms of county government are working together the best that they can to meet the needs of seniors," Jacob said.

The county has established a smart phone application "Tell Us Now" for county residents to communicate with officials in its effort to become more tech-friendly.

"We're all about better, cheaper, faster, and this is another way to do just that," Jacob said.

While it was mentioned sixth on her list, Jacob said it was the supervisors' "most important" job to keep the public safe and vowed that the county would "stay battle-ready" on both the law enforcement and firefighting fronts.

Building bonds in divided communities was the final item on the Jacob to- do list. She mentioned cultural differences, race relations and tensions between some ethnic groups and law enforcement that hit home last fall with the officer involved shooting of a black man in El Cajon.

"That's the job in front of us, now let's get to work," Jacob said.

After Jacob’s address, a coalition called “Invest in San Diego Families” rallied outside with their own version of the State of the County. The Center on Policy Initiatives shared a study showing a third of working age families in San Diego County cannot make ends meet.

Demonstrators part of the Invest in San Diego Families coalition protest outside of the County Administration Building, Feb. 1, 2017.
Alison St John
Demonstrators part of the Invest in San Diego Families coalition protest outside of the County Administration Building, Feb. 1, 2017.

CPI Research Director Peter Brownell said the County Supervisors could adopt a living wage like the San Diego city council has done, rather than paying some contractors minimum wage.

David Trajillo, advocacy director of the ACLU, said, when it comes to mental health, the county still invests more in punishment than in prevention.

“Since 2009 there’s been an 84 percent increase in mental health calls,” Trajillo said, “and yet more and more of these people continue to end up in jails because we’re not providing the proper services they need.”

Jacob said in her address that the county has increased the number of psychiatric teams that can respond to a mental health crisis. Asked how many new teams have been added to respond to mental health crisis on the streets, Jacob’s communications advisor Steve Schmidt said in text that the Board of Supervisors last year approved more funding to raise the number of PERT teams from 33 to 40. However, he wrote, “finding enough qualified clinicians has been a challenge.”

Asked after the speech whether this year’s budget would contain extra funding for mental health and other social services, Jacob said she will focus on developing a better delivery model for seniors.

“If we develop a model for seniors, it will help to develop a model for other types of issues and other people that need help," she said. "But in order to be successful we need to start small.”