The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $6.8 billion budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, up $308.4 million from last year’s spending plan.
Elevated spending for homeless and mental health services is a key driver in the bigger budget.
The county will shed 41 jobs due mostly by 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 services for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness. The supervisors also voted to allocate $5 million in seed money for a newly established affordable housing trust that is a partnership with various cities in the county.
“Orange County has a desperate need for more affordable housing,” Supervisor Andrew Do said. “The Orange County Housing Finance Trust will work with our cities and community leaders to fast-track financing for new housing for low-income families and the homeless.”
A family of four with an annual income of less than $85,000 will be eligible for the trust’s projects.
The $5 million is a “down-payment toward obtaining additional state and federal funding for affordable housing,” Do said.
The spending comes at a time of uncertainty regarding litigation in federal court seeking to prohibit municipalities from enforcing anti-camping ordinances without first proving they have offered sufficient shelter and housing for transients. U.S. District Judge James Selna this month granted a motion filed by south Orange County cities seeking to boot U.S. District Judge James O. Carter from presiding over their litigation based on arguments of bias.
In his ruling, Selna lauded Carter for pushing north Orange County cities and the county into settlements that have provided shelter for hundreds of transients, many of whom had been in encampments along the Santa Ana river and next to the Central Justice Center courthouse in Santa Ana. But Selna cited a few comments Carter made during those proceedings that could make the south county cities feel as if he could not be unbiased in presiding over their litigation, so the case was transferred to a federal judge in Los Angeles.
The newly approved budget is the first for the county since closing out its debts in its 1994 bankruptcy case last 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 by voters 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, county CEO Frank Kim outlined in a letter to supervisors on the budget.
The Health Care Agency has been approved 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 possitionss 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 approved.
Spitzer told the supervisors at their last meeting 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. He 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, according to 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.”
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes asked for $6.4 million for two new inmate transportation buses, 128 new vehicles and to upgrade a closed-circuit television system. The sheriff will receive essentially the same amount of money his department received last year.
Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley will get $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.
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