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County budget includes more emphasis on homeless issue


Los Angeles County officials unveiled this week a $30.8 billion recommended budget today for the 2018-19 fiscal year, with a mission to “improve the quality of life for all county residents, particularly those struggling on the margins of society.’’

County Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said the budget is “at the very heart of the services we provide … We are the safety net for millions of Los Angeles County residents.’’

Highlights include spending on a handful of priorities set by the Board of Supervisors, with $374 million to fund the fight against homelessness front and center. That reflects a jump of more than $100 million for housing and services for the homeless, due largely to a full year of the quarter-cent sales tax increase mandated by Measure H.

“Of all of the issues facing the county, none is more urgent and complex than homelessness,’’ Hamai said, citing “unprecedented progress’’ and pointing to 3,000 families and individuals moved into permanent supportive housing in the last six months of 2017. A total of 7,000 people moved into crisis, bridge and interim housing during that same period, according to Hamai.

Other areas of major spending include child welfare, health services and criminal justice reforms.

The county expects continued economic growth, estimating a 5.7 percent increase in property tax collections and a 2 percent uptick in sales taxes paid. However, the overall budget is down about 2.5 percent from last year, or $800 million, due to one-time expenditures in the prior year.

The county expects to open up 477 new positions, bringing the total of potential county employees to more than 111,000. Most of the new spots are slated in the area of health care and children and family services.

Expanding patient care will include ramping up mental health care and devoting nearly $80 million to substance abuse programs. Another $52 million is budgeted for foster and adoptive care programs.

Anticipated spending on juvenile justice reform includes $26.9 million on programs to reduce recidivism and $18.8 million on diversion programs and housing for young people.

The budget also reflects a hike in spending on technology and analytics to gauge the success of the county’s efforts to solve these pressing problems.

The recommended budget will be presented to the board tomorrow, public hearings will be scheduled and the budget deliberation process aimed at finalizing the numbers will begin June 25.

Shifts may be necessary to accommodate state and federal budget cuts. President Donald Trump has proposed more than $1.6 trillion in cuts to entitlement programs like Medicaid, food stamps and affordable housing, for example.

“If enacted, those cuts would profoundly affect our ability to deliver services to the needy here in Los Angeles County,’’ Hamai said.

Nearly 60 percent of the county’s budget is allocated to health and public assistance.

Other federal proposals could help fund county projects, including infrastructure spending.

The recommended county budget includes nearly $1 billion in capital spending to build or renovate county facilities this year.