County Officials Unveil Rosiest Budget Projections in Years

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While the past five years have been rough on county coffers, the mood was decidedly upbeat this week as county officials unveiled their proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Bolstered by a modest boost in tax revenues, county officials plan a slight uptick in spending going into fiscal year 2015, which starts in July.

The county is “starting to see the small growth you’re seeing in the economy,” said Frank Kim, the county’s chief financial officer, in a news briefing on Monday.

In comparison to the consistent cuts over the last five years, Kim said next year’s $5.4 billion spending plan is set to be “a good budget for us.”

“We’re keeping services approximately level. We’re able to grow them in certain areas where we have a need,” he added.

With a 2-percent increase in discretionary spending – or $61 million – officials aren’t expecting any cuts or layoffs in the next fiscal year.

And with county finances looking up, officials are setting aside extra money to fund a new mental health law, and run two year-round homeless shelters.

(Click here to read the proposed budget.)

Small revenue boosts from property and public safety sales taxes – 2 and 3 percent, respectively – are prompting the rosier outlook.

Five new positions would be created to handle the potential implementation of the mental health-focused Laura’s Law, which is set for adoption on Tuesday.

As for $150 million in back payments owed to the state after the county lost a legal battle, county officials say they’re on track to make yearly payments without hits to service.

Payments to the state would start at $5 million this next fiscal year, followed by $15 million, $25 million, $50 million and $55 million.

During recent labor negotiations with employees, county officials have been telling labor groups that the legal defeat has largely made any compensation increases extremely difficult.

Also on Monday, county transportation officials kicked off talks about their proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The Orange County Transportation Authority’s proposed $1.1 billion budget maintain bus and rail service levels, officials say, while more than $100 million is being cut to “contributions to other agencies.”

At the county level, the proposed budget includes $3.6 million to operate two year-round emergency homeless shelters, though it remains to be seen whether a location can even be acquired.

Efforts have so far proven elusive. Fullerton residents successfully defeated last year’s attempt by the county to create a shelter in a former furniture store.

About $5 million has already been set aside to purchase a homeless shelter building.

As they often note during financial discussions, county officials reiterated Monday that Orange County receives the lowest return on its property tax dollars of any county in California.

While the average return is 17 cents per dollar, officials said, Orange County only receives 6 cents.

Government budgets are based on estimated income and expenses for the upcoming year, and is regularly updated after their approval.

From here, officials plan to hold a budget preview for the public on Tuesday, June 10 at 8 a.m. at the county Hall of Administration. That rundown would be followed by the county’s first public hearing on the budget, at 9:30 a.m., where officials will take public testimony on the proposal.

The final budget would be adopted before July 1.

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