Proposed County Budget Reflects the Effects of the COVID-19 Crisis

Written by Ainsley Jackman

San Diego County’s recommended $6.4 billion budget, which is up 2.5% from last year, was released Monday and it’s clear that it too has been heavily influenced by the COVID-19 crisis.

The economic downturn and extra costs from the pandemic have lost the county a lot of revenue, forcing them to dip into reserves to keep a balanced budget. This is certainly a cause for concern, and while many of the budget details are still being sorted out, Supervisor Jim Desmond expressed his reservation about dipping into county reserves.

“I will always fight for fiscal responsibility and strong reserves,” said Desmond. “The need for strong reserves is extremely important, especially during a time like this.”

The recommended budget calls for $100 million to go to the Health and Human Services Agency alone to fight the pandemic with testing, treatment, and medical supplies to allow the safe reopening of businesses. Another $15 million will pay for the technology needed for behavioral health services such as tele-health along with workforce recruitment and retention.

But the budget is not allowing other issues to be neglected in the meantime. Welfare services will continue to be supported with a $23.7 million increase to address homelessness in the unincorporated areas, and a $3 million increase to help homeless youth specifically.

Plans to double affordable housing units for low income and homeless residents within five years remain steady and supported. Efforts to improve air quality include $21.1 million to implement a Community Air Protection Program and $5 million to manage vehicle emissions.

Significant reform is also coming for law enforcement, while $2 billion is being allocated for public safety, and nearly 5,000 officers will complete de-escalation training through the District Attorney’s office and the Sheriff’s Department. Additionally, a new Office of Equity and Racial Justice has been formed to address bias and inequalities within county organizations.

The largest expenses in the capital program include $22.3 million to renovate the Rock Mountain Detention Facility, $15 million to construct the Innovative Residential Rehabilitation Program, $14.5 million for renovations of the County Administration Center, and another $14.9 million for maintenance of other facilities’ capital projects. New fire stations, mental health centers, and a juvenile justice campus are also in progress.

For more information on the new county budget plan, visit the online budget portal.