SAN DIEGO (CNS) - After hours of public input and deliberation, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved a $6.5 billion operating budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
Previously $6.4 billion, the revised budget reflects an additional $83.2 million in recent funding requests, including $24 million for rental assistance, millions of dollars in road projects and an office dedicated to racial equality.
Tuesday's vote, held via teleconference, follows two public hearings earlier in August, when board members heard funding requests from residents.
Normally held in late June, the budget approval process was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supervisors thanked Chief Administrative Officer Helen-Robbins Meyer and her staff for crafting a budget during an especially challenging time.
``Putting together a budget is a big job,'' said board Chairman Greg Cox.
According to a summary provided by Robbins-Meyer's office, the county is spending $2.5 billion on health & human services, $2 billion for public safety, $776 million on finance and general government, $632 million on land use and environment, $409 million on various items and $125 million on capital improvements.
``I think we can be proud that we have a good, solid and well-balanced budget,'' Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.
Supervisor Jim Desmond credited staff members for ``for fighting to do the right thing. This is not easy.''
Supervisor Kristin Gaspar said while the coronavirus pandemic has caused great economic hardship, using the general fund to pay for every request could result in a major shortfall for county finances.
Gaspar said she supported using funds from the federal coronavirus relief bill to pay for rental assistance.
``I know that people are struggling,'' Gaspar said, adding that her constituents have called her office and shared their anguish.
During the public hearing, dozens of callers made a final pitch for more county funding.
Some demanded the county defund law enforcement and provide even more money for behavioral health services.
Others criticized supervisors' funding requests, including $10 million for three traffic roundabouts in Desmond's district, and $14 million for an equestrian park in Jacobs' district.
Jacob countered that the park, to be built in Lakeside, has been in the works since 2012. She added that center will bring needed jobs, and ``become an economic engine for that community and this region.'' Desmond said that years ago, the county approved the roundabouts in Rancho Santa Fe.
The roundabouts are needed to deal with major traffic, Desmond said. ``If we don't build this now, we'll pay more later,'' Desmond said. During a news conference earlier Tuesday, Supervisor Nathan Fletcher proposed almost $50 million in additional social services.
However, that number was reduced to $38 million during the board meeting based on suggestions from his fellow board members. Fletcher's requests included:
-$5.4 million for the county to provide mental health, substance misuse and care coordination services at permanent supportive housing locations;
-$2.5 million for staff to develop a plan to provide translation services in multiple languages;
-$2 million to provide low-income families with access to the Internet for distancing learning during the school year;
-$2 million for income replacement stipend for workers who get COVID-19 and aren't eligible for sick pay or other benefits if they stay home; and
-$1 million for the Legal Aid Society of San Diego to provide landlord/tenant counseling to help prevent evictions.
The board also approved Fletcher's request for nearly $2 million in environmental-related projects, including water-quality monitoring.
``We made this budget better by working with the community to drive significant changes reflecting our values and their needs to ensure more equity, opportunity and fairness, particularly for those impacted by COVID-19,'' Fletcher said.