Orange County supervisors Tuesday signaled their support for a proposed $6.8 billion spending plan for the 2019-20 fiscal year, up $308.4 million from last year’s budget.
The increase is the result of spending more for the homeless and for mental health programs. The county will shed 41 jobs due mostly to not filling vacant positions.
County officials have budgeted nearly $930 million for a “system of care” to provide services such as housing, healthcare and mental health for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. The supervisors also voted to recommend $5 million as sort of seed money for a newly established affordable housing trust that is a partnership with various cities in the county.
“We are making investments to our system of care,” County Chief Executive Frank Kim told the supervisors. “We are really committed to the challenges we’re seeing with the mentally ill and disabled population in our jail system.”
It is the first budget for the county since closing out its debts in the 1994 bankruptcy case in November. And this month, the county will make its final payment of $55 million in the settlement with the state over a dispute on Vehicle License Fees.
County officials are expecting 4% growth in property tax revenue in the coming fiscal year, which starts in July. Property tax revenue is expected to be up $40.9 million over last year.
Income from Proposition 172, the half-cent sales tax increase approved in 1993 for public safety services, is slated to increase $10.4 million over this year, allowing for $345.5 million for public safety funding, $276.4 million for the sheriff’s department and $69.1 million for the District Attorney’s Office.
Plans for addressing homelessness include funding to relocate the Courtyard emergency shelter in downtown Santa Ana to a new facility in partnership with the city, Kim outlined in a letter to supervisors on the budget.
The Health Care Agency is requesting money for 123 new positions and $16.9 million for mental health services in the jails and $800,000 for “in-custody reentry services.”
In District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s first budget, county officials have recommended a plan for four new posts for a Post-Conviction Litigation Unit and three for a Conviction Integrity Unit.
The Post-Conviction Litigation Unit will review cases of defendants convicted of murder under the old “aider and abettor” law, which has been changed to require that defendants involved in a murder had to play an active part in the killing to also be convicted of murder. The unit will also review marijuana convictions in light of the state’s decriminalization of marijuana possession.
The Conviction Integrity Unit will take another look at cases when defendants request it.
Two positions for a Recidivism Reduction Unit were also preliminarily approved in a board straw vote.
Spitzer told the supervisors that he “inherited quite a few issues” as a result of the so-called snitch scandal that resulted from the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in the county’s history, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when a judge decided that misuse of jailhouse informants made it impossible for Dekraai, who pleaded guilty, to get a fair trial in the death penalty phase of his prosecution.
The new unit to review past convictions is an important message to the U.S. Department of Justice in its review of the snitch scandal allegations, said Spitzer, who told the supervisors he has been trying to resolve the probe as soon as possible.
“My goal is to do everything I can to avoid a consent decree,” Spitzer said. “Once the courts get involved and they start appointing special masters … they have a blank check … My goal is to send a very strong statement… that the informant scandal will never happen again.”
Board Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett recommended $410,000 in funding for an additional three new positions to review past convictions. She said the moves would “reduce our liability and exposure in the future” and save the county money in the long run.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes wants to budget $6.4 million for two new inmate transportation buses, 128 new vehicles and to upgrade a closed-circuit television system.
Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley wants to budget $20 million for a new voting system that will scrap the precinct system and create centers where voters can cast ballots no matter where they live. Of that money, $300,000 is for ongoing costs and $460,000 is considered a one-time expense.
“Our current (voting) equipment is at the end of its useful life,” Kim said.
The supervisors will consider final adoption of the budget at their June 25 meeting.
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: