LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors held its first public hearing Wednesday on the $38.5 billion recommended budget for fiscal year 2022-23, fielding roughly an hour of comments from residents about the spending plan.
The recommended budget was presented by County CEO Fesia Davenport to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on April 19, the first step in a months-long budget process for Los Angeles County.
Some callers into Wednesday’s virtual public hearing expressed dismay at the process, which limited speakers to one minute each. But Board chair Holly Mitchell said there will be more opportunities for public comment on the budget, including the chance to submit written comments at publiccomment.bos.lacounty.gov/.
“My engagement with the public won’t stop after today’s hearing,” she said. “We’ll continue to provide opportunities to hear from you and will strive to make the budget process collaborative, inclusive and transparent.”
Supervisors also acknowledged during the hearing ongoing labor talks with the union representing thousands of county workers — who have already authorized a strike if negotiations break down.
“Our workers are so important to really carrying out this board’s priorities and to delivering services to our residents,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said. “And they’ve gone through a lot in the last two years and they’ve kept this county moving forward despite the challenges that the pandemic has created. I hope we can look at the negotiations as with our friends and partners, and not so much a warning or red flag or challenge. They have always wanted to be part of the solution of the county. We need them, they need us, and I trust that we will get to a fair contract soon.”
The budget recommendation is $807 million less than the current fiscal year’s adopted budget, but $2.3 billion more than last year’s recommended budget. Major adjustments will be made before the budget is ultimately finalized in October. The budget does not yet include anticipated state and federal funding.
“This budget brings to life the policy vision established by the Board of Supervisors and sets a course for the county to strengthen the programs and services we provide to millions of residents each and every day,” Davenport said in a statement in April. “That means continuing to respond vigilantly to an evolving pandemic, while also ramping up to launch new departments focused on key populations and driving major changes in how we deliver services. It’s a dynamic time for Los Angeles County, and this recommended spending plan is intended to reflect that.”
The proposal foresees a positive economic outlook for the county, with property tax revenues expected to grow by 6% and sales tax revenues estimated to increase by nearly 8%. However, Davenport, who said in April that the county is “cautiously optimistic,” warned of challenges and uncertainties, including inflation, labor negotiations, continuing impacts from COVID-19, litigation and an unstable geopolitical climate affecting gas prices and global markets.
Generally, the draft budget is divided into $12.985 billion for health- related services, $9.597 billion for public assistance, $9.461 billion for public protection, $5.737 billion for general services and other costs, and $737 million for recreation and culture.
The Sheriff’s Department is recommended to receive approximately $3.6 billion, roughly the same as the current fiscal year.
The draft budget also includes $493.3 million in Measure H funding to help with mental health resources and housing for people experiencing homelessness. The county’s homeless initiative team will give recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on how to spend the Measure H dollars.
The draft budget includes funding for a total of 513 new positions, bringing the total number of county jobs to 111,551. Most of the new positions are focused on public health, health and safety net services, including 116 new public health positions, 196 new critical care unit nurses and 41 new “street medicine” clinic positions.
It would also allocate $15.3 million for continued compliance with a federal consent decree governing conditions in the Men’s Central Jail, which the Board of Supervisors has committed to closing. The proposal also includes $12.3 million to expand sheriff’s academy classes and train a “new generation of deputies,” while continuing moves to rely more on mental-health professionals to respond to some incidents rather than law enforcement.
Also proposed is $100 million through Measure J for “community investments” and incarceration alternatives, and support for the county’s “Care First, Jails Last” program. In line with Measure J, the county aims to set aside the full 10% of its locally generated unrestricted revenue to support Care First and Community Investment programs by 2024.
Youth investments outlined in the recommended budget include $22.8 million for full-time child care for CalWORKS families, $15.7 million for the Youth@Work jobs program and $14.1 million for Department of Children and Family Services medical hub services.
The county is also expected to introduce four new departments in the next fiscal year, which Davenport said “must be some kind of record, at least in modern county times.”
The new departments are the Justice Care and Opportunities Department, the Youth Development Department, the Aging and Disabilities Department and the Department of Economic Opportunity.
The draft budget also includes $188 million for water conservation projects, $1.6 billion for capital projects and $85.3 million to enhance and expand parks.
About $30 million would also go to public works projects, including paving roads and making improvements that impact traffic safety.
The $38 billion is funded by several sources, including 22%, or $8.5 billion, from the state and 15%, or $5.8 billion, from the federal government. However, both state and federal revenues are tied to specific programs. The county also has $8.124 billion from charges for services, $8.3 billion from property taxes and $7 billion in other revenues.
After public hearings, deliberations will begin on June 27. The final budget will be adopted in October.