Tuesday is game day for how nearly $8 billion in OC taxpayers’ money will be spent by county officials over the next year – and the last opportunity for the public to be heard on where it should go before it’s finalized.

After the public gets their legally-required opportunity to speak, the five county supervisors will cast their final votes to adopt the new fiscal year budget.

Residents have told Voice of OC in emails and social media comments that they’d like to see more funding go to roads, county parks, land for affordable housing and speeding up the processing times of concealed gun permits.

A Chapman University survey conducted earlier this year found housing affordability and homelessness the biggest overall concerns for OC residents.

Residents were more concerned about housing affordability than the pandemic, survey results show.

The budget sets new funding levels for everything from jails to child protective services to mental health and homeless services. 

The biggest spending expansion is an extra $85 million to the Sheriff’s Department from new unrestricted money, to maintain current services.

And the county is eyeing a wave of $616 million in new federal cash coming their way to help residents recover from coronavirus – along with another wave of state money expected to come to the county later this year.

On top of that, the county is projecting $40 million in additional public safety tax money and $36 million in extra unrestricted funds that can be spent on any government services.

[Here’s a link to the county’s draft budget and a link to the county’s proposal for part of its extra money.]

[What do you think? See anything interesting? What do you think the money should go? Contact our reporter at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.]

Members of the public can speak at the final budget hearing if they show up in person to the 9:30 a.m. session on Tuesday.

There’s also an option for written comments to be read aloud at the meeting by county officials, if residents with a disability email County Counsel Leon Page noting their disability makes them unable to come speak at the meeting.

In the budget process, County CEO Frank Kim is recommending:

  • An extra $85 million to the Sheriff’s Department from new unrestricted money, to maintain current services. Otherwise, the department says it will have to cut 342 positions, mostly deputy sheriffs.
  • Additional $8 million in new annual spending from unrestricted dollars to add 37 jail medical staff under the Health Care Agency to expand mental health services for inmates who are diagnosed with mental illnesses.
  • $7 million to the Public Defender’s Office from new unrestricted money, to maintain current services.
  • About $6 million total per year in new federal and state restricted dollars to the Social Services Agency, to add 24 positions to “meet State and Federal mandates and quality control requirements,” 21 positions under the CalWORKs welfare-to-work program, nin positions to implement a welfare computer system called CalSAWS, and another five positions under the Children and Family Services.
  • About $400,000 in new money for the county Office of Independent Review to add two attorneys to review specific incidents at the Sheriff’s Department and other county agencies, analyze systematic problems and recommend ways to fix them.
  • About $900,000 in new money for the OC Parks department, to add 12 positions lik office technicians, and maintenance workers “to facilitate access to various [county] Park facilities, engage with visitors through public programs, perform maintenance activities, and provide administrative support.”
  • About $200,000 to buy three replacement trucks for animal services under OC Animal Care.
  • About $100,000 to the District Attorney’s Office from vehicle license fees, to add a paralegal and handle extra evidence disclosure from the Orange County Auto Theft Task Force.

The budget itself also notes:

  • Sheriff staff costs are growing faster than the public safety tax revenues that support the department, prompting the county to use unrestricted dollars to cover the shortfall.
  • The sheriff is cutting other costs to make up for the growing staff compensation, including by delaying filling vacant positions and reducing or delaying maintenance of buildings and equipment purchases.

So far, officials are planning on spending about $200 million of the recovery money on existing services that saw their revenue drop during the pandemic, and about $85 million of new unrestricted money on the Sheriff’s Department.

The $85 million increase would let the Sheriff’s Department maintain its existing services, officials say, amid a series of pay raises county supervisors previously authorized.

County officials also are talking internally about whether to further expand mental health and addiction recovery services, particularly around homelessness, but the specifics haven’t yet been worked out.

As for the $600-plus million in new federal coronavirus recovery money, taxpayer advocates like Carolyn Cavecche recently told Voice of OC the county should have a public agenda item specifically about how they plan to spend it.

“We expect every local jurisdiction from the County of Orange to each city to be transparent and accountable to the taxpayers in how the monies will be spent,” said Cavecche, the president of the OC Taxpayers’ Association.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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