Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Los Angeles County officials unveiled a $28.5 billion proposed budget Monday for fiscal year 2016-17, highlighting commitments to combating homelessness, protecting children and reforming jails while noting that demand for services far outstrips available resources.

Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai told reporters the county “faces difficult challenges in lifting the quality of life for all of our residents,” though officials are determined to do so.

The CEO highlighted roughly $106 million in funding for new initiatives designed to address homelessness, in addition to nearly $1 billion already being spent by six county departments to help homeless individuals in various ways.

Community advocates have largely hailed that allocation of resources. However, many have vehemently opposed the county’s moves to replace the deteriorating Men’s Central Jail and convert the Mira Loma Detention Center to a women’s jail.

The proposed budget allocates $148 million for those projects, which are ultimately expected to cost nearly $2 billion.

That far outstrips the $21 million proposed to fund diversion programs, including the newly created Office of Diversion and Reentry — established to provide substance abuse and mental health treatment in lieu of jail time — and a Skid Row “sobering center.”

Jails aren’t the only county facilities in need of repair. The budget calls for $192 million in “high-priority” repairs and maintenance to juvenile halls, animal shelters and other buildings and parks next year.

Hamai said the backlog of deferred maintenance exceeds $1 billion.

“The county’s building inventory is large and old,” the CEO said.

Hamai said the budget — which represents about a 1 percent increase over last year’s spending — takes a conservative approach.

Based on a growth in the labor market, an uptick in consumer spending and moderate gains in housing prices, the budget assumes 5 percent growth in property tax revenues and 4 percent growth in sales tax revenue.

But Hama cautioned that global financial market instability and declining oil prices have created uncertainty about the future and warned that the current economic expansion would eventually give way to another slowdown.

The budget calls for $81 million to be socked away in the county’s “rainy day” fund, bringing that reserve to $338 million — though still $235 million below its prescribed level.

The board is sticking to a multi-year plan to close the gap in unfunded pension liabilities, proposing to prefund about $84 million in retiree healthcare benefits in 2016-17.

Hamai struck a largely positive tone, focusing on the many new programs and services slated for the year ahead, including wage enforcement, economic development and support for Proposition 47, the state’s reduced-penalties law.

But the CEO also acknowledged that the county is still searching for ways to fund some of its more ambitious plans over the long term.

“We are also, once again, challenged by the demand for county services that far exceeds available financing resources,” Hamai said.

County staffers are working to identify a long-term source of funding for the estimated $450 million in annual ongoing costs to combat homelessness, which doesn’t include construction costs. The Board of Supervisors has also called for $100 million in annual financing for affordable housing projects.

Revamping an outdated information technology system will eventually cost another $265 million, according to Hamai.

But perhaps the most daunting cost is stormwater pollution cleanup. The CEO said 11 watershed management projects in the county’s unincorporated areas could cost as much as $4 billion over the next 20 years.

The budget is still subject to public hearings and approval by the Board of Supervisors over the next several months.

It will be formally presented to the board tomorrow, and the first public hearings are scheduled to begin on May 11.

—Staff and wire reports

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