Health services, public works receive increase
The general public got its opportunity this week to weigh in on the county's $43 billion 2023-2024 budget proposal, a sum that represents a $1.6 billion shrinkage from last year's spending package.
The Board of Supervisors' special hearing is another step in the drawn-out process of budget compilation, which ends Oct. 3. The board will also hear a report from the county CEO on budget issues facing the county.
The largest chunk of the proposal, 33%, is geared toward Health, Public Works Sanitation at $14.1 billion. Public Assistance represents 26%, or $11.1 billion of the budget, followed by Public Protection at 24%, or $10.5 billion, including the Sheriff's Department; Fire Department; District Attorney; Public Defender; Probation; Justice, Care and Opportunities Department; Office of Diversion and Reentry; Medical Examiner; and Animal Care and Control.
Also, the General Government, which is 11% of the total at $5 billion, includes the Assessor, Auditor-Controller, Board of Supervisors, County Counsel, Chief Executive Office, Economic Opportunity, Treasurer-Tax Collector and more. Recreation and Cultural spending is 0.7% of the total budget, or $1 billion.
The budget also includes cautionary language about possible further major expenditures in the near future, particularly up to $3 billion in settlements for alleged abuses of youth in county custody in the past. According to county officials, there may be as many as 3,000 such cases.
“Early information estimates that the county's financial exposure ranges from $1.6 billion to more than $3 billion from more than 3,000 claims alleging childhood sexual assault at various county'' and other facilities CEO Fesia Davenport wrote to the board when she released her proposed budget last month.
During an initial hearing last month, Supervisor Kathryn Barger said the budget proposal “got several things right.''
“I am pleased it includes ongoing funding for sheriff's academies to help keep our communities safe,'' Barger said. “Our county must have a functioning pipeline that recruits and trains quality candidates for the sheriff's department. This has a ripple effect, allowing us to maintain necessary staffing levels for our local sheriff's stations and jails.
“I am also encouraged that the Department of Mental Health is allocated more than $60 million in Mental Health Services Act funding and more than 165 positions to expand services–including 32 positions for the Antelope Valley Children and Family Health Clinic.''
Supervisor Holly Mitchell said she hopes there will be good attendance at the upcoming public budget meetings. She said the public has to understand that the county “cannot rely on unanticipated revenue.''
The spending plan includes investments in mental health services, homelessness programs and establishment of an Office of Constitutional Policing within the sheriff's department. It also realizes the goal set by voter passage of Measure J in 2020–mandating that at least 10% of the county's locally generated “unrestricted revenues'' be dedicated to community service programs and alternatives to incarceration.
Davenport said the budget proposal dedicates $288.3 million to such programs, along with nearly $198 million more that will roll over from the current fiscal year, putting the 2023-24 total at about $486 million.
Specific recommendations for the use of those funds are expected to be presented to the Board of Supervisors this spring.