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Supervisors approve $5.08 billion county budget

County supervisors approved on Tuesday a $5.08 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Somewhat larger than the $5.06 billion outlined in the proposed budget of Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer, the revised plan included a number of changes suggested during public budget hearings earlier this month.

Robbins-Meyer said the county had the resources to "not only meet expectations, but to take us to the next level of service."

The statement came with a cautionary point, though.

"As pleased as we are with recent positive economic developments, such as the decline in San Diego's unemployment rate and better-than-anticipated local assessed value growth, the economic recovery is still slow and uncertain, which means that risk remains," Robbins-Meyer said.

She called for the continuance of strategically implementing plans to mitigate external risks, such as those created by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the state's prisoner realignment through Assembly Bill 109 and the maximum daily load requirements from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"Even in the best of years, there are always risks and unknowns out there, but I think we've shown over quite a while now that we've been able to well manage those and maintain the excellent funding that we have," Supervisor Ron Roberts said before the budget's unanimous approval.

Supervisor Dave Roberts, who a couple of weeks ago proposed that the budget allow for a doubling of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program's funding, said the budgeting process revealed how certain changes, specific to the last year but outside the county's scope, affected local spending needs.

"Immediately, we heard from a few people that our health care funding was off," Dave Roberts said. "Immediately working with folks, we knew that there was a difference because of decisions made at the federal government level; what we were actually doing increased funding in health care for our programs."

The budget breaks down to allocate $1.9 billion for the health and human services group of programs, comprising the largest share of spending. The public safety group is set to receive $1.63 billion, while $417.5 million will go toward land use and environment spending, $384.8 million will go to finance and general government spending, $325.6 million for community services and $336.3 million is budgeted for other finance. The smallest group is the capital improvements program, at $83.7 million.

The figures reflect an upward revision of $27.2 million from the draft budget. They also reflected an additional seven staff years, bringing the approved county staffing level to 17,044 staff years.

Roberts' proposal to increase funding for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program was included in the approved version.

"A restoration in funding to this program is going to allow us to expand support for many projects — projects such as ones I'm passionate about, which are the Palomar Forensic Health center, the Solana Beach Veterans Memorial Garden, the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the Rancho Coastal Humane Society, that improve the quality of life not only for the residents of my district but throughout the county," Roberts said.

Since 2011, the program has allowed each supervisor to request grants for organizations totaling up to $1 million per year; they had $2 million each to work with prior to 2011.

Some, such as Roberts' election opponent two years ago, Steve Danon, referred to the program as a slush fund that could be easily abused. Roberts addressed concerns for the transparency of the program.

"This board has already strengthened this program twice," Roberts said. "It has been reviewed by the grand jury. But I always believe that we can do better. I believe it's incumbent upon us to see if we can improve the application process and add some additional safeguards to strengthen the openness, transparency and accessibility of this program."

He also suggested strengthening the county's online reporting system for the program, and said he would bring forward some of his recommendations at future board meetings.

Other changes from the CAO's original budget recommendation included an increase of $7.4 million and three staff years for the public safety group of departments, an increase of $1.5 million and four staff years for the community services group and an extra $2 million for the capital program budget. The remaining additions in planned spending were associated with various financing and general government spending.

One change of note from those groups added $1.2 million to the budget for reimbursement to the Facilities Management Internal Service Fund, to offset expenditures for the projected increase in maintenance operations in and around the newly opened County Administration Center waterfront park.

Additionally, changes included a $500,000 increase in the Community Enhancement Program due to anticipated over-realized transient occupancy tax revenue.

The budget approval allows the county to begin spending on July 1 under the new outline, though the supervisors won't formally adopt the budget until August.

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County of San Diego Executive(s):

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Ron Roberts

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