Its that time of year again – when the five county supervisors and a handful of county managers get together to pass a massive spending plan that in one way, shape or form affects each of Orange County’s 3.1 million residents.
This year’s $5.8 billion budget will, among many other things, pay for sheriff’s deputies, probation officers, road construction, prosecutors, park maintenance, homeless services, public health programs, and restaurant inspections.
Yet the vast majority of us pay no attention to the budget or its approval process, which by law must be completed by June 30.
Those who want to have input will have an opportunity during public hearings that will be held in just under two weeks, on June 9th and 10th. At these hearings, members of the public will have three minutes each to let the supervisors know their thoughts on the budget, and whether anything should be changed.
With so much to digest and so little time left, we figured it would be good to provide a rundown of important things to know about the budget:
1. While the overall budget is massive, county supervisors only have direct control over a relatively small portion of it.
The county’s $5.8 billion budget includes billions in restricted state and federal funds for social safety net programs like Medi-Cal and food stamps. Other restricted dollars are dedicated through things like Measure M2, which funds road projects, and the state public safety sales tax.
Supervisors often get to have a say on how to spend much of that restricted money – like which road projects to fund with state dollars – so long as the funds are being used for their intended purpose.
But when it comes down to it, only $723 million, or roughly 12 percent, of the budget is discretionary money directly under the supervisors’ purview. And these are the dollars in play during the budget hearings.
2. About half of the discretionary money is proposed for public safety spending.
As is common with local government budgets, just over half of the county’s discretionary funding is slated for public safety services like the sheriff’s department, district attorney, courts, probation and public defender.
Here’s a breakdown of the discretionary funding:
(Click here to read a detailed breakdown of how the discretionary funding is proposed to be split between departments and programs.)
3. Of the $723 million in discretionary money, most of it is slated to be used for the same items that are in this year’s budget. That being said, more than $60 million in extra funding remains completely unattached.
Bolstered by extra revenues and the end of an $18 million-per-year bankruptcy debt payment, the county has some extra cash in hand.
So each department is slated to get an automatic 3-percent boost in their discretionary funding, plus a case-by-case consideration of anything that goes beyond that.
For some departments – notably the Sheriff and DA – their expected costs to continue existing services exceed that 3-percent bump.
So they submit additional funding requests, known as “augmentations,” with county budget staff making a recommendation as to whether to fund them, and by how much.
Additionally, departments can request discretionary money for new services that they don’t currently provide – like for establishing a year-round homeless shelter – which also receive recommendations from staff.
Those will be the requests that get most of the attention at the budget hearings.
4. The county produces a list of which funding requests are being recommended for approval, and which aren’t.
As part of the proposed budget process, the county publishes a detailed list of the augmentation requests. It can be time-consuming to go through the 69 pages, so to simplify it we’ve consolidated the info into two spreadsheets:
(Click here to read the list of the extra budget requests and how much is recommended by staff for funding.)
5. Most of the requests are recommended to be fully funded.
The biggest request is from the Sheriff’s Department, which states it can’t keep staffing the jails at their current level without an extra $12 million. Staff is recommending approval.
Another request is for an extra $6.5 million in apparently unexpected costs for upgrades of a critical but antiquated countywide software system for tracking finance, purchasing, human resources and payroll, known as CAPS. It’s also recommended for approval.
Some are recommended for partial funding, like a $6.9 million request from the district attorney’s office to continue existing services. Budget staff are recommending that only $5.8 million be approved from discretionary funds, with the DA’s office having to figure out where to get the rest of the funding from.
Others aren’t slated to receive any funding, like $6.9 million the Social Services Agency says it needs to maintain its current service levels for an emergency welfare program that’s expected to see a 23-percent jump in caseloads.
For that request, budget staff are recommending that it be deferred until a “mid-year review of caseloads and funding.”
And budget staff are recommending the rejection of a request by the Internal Audit department for $130,000 to fill a vacant administrative manager position.
Internal Auditor Peter Hughes says the role is needed to help with issues like fraud hotline investigations, while budget staff are recommending the funding be deferred until an “Audit Oversight Committee evaluation” of the “Internal Audit function.”
The budget hearings are planned to take place at public meetings in the county Hall of Administration in downtown Santa Ana (333 W. Santa Ana Blvd, Santa Ana).
You can also email the county supervisors with your thoughts, as well as contact Voice of OC at the email address below.