SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The Board of Supervisors Monday heard requests for improved child care and better trails during a brief session on the county's proposed $7.15 billion budget.
Monday's event, which included a short video presentation and budget overview, was the first to take the public's pulse on the proposed fiscal year 2022-23 spending plan.
Although just a few people made comments, a second hearing is set for 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, when the public can comment in person or by phone. People can also comment online through e-comment until budget hearings close.
Helen Robbins-Meyer, county chief administrative officer, said this budget is the second consecutive one that reflects the board's vision.
Along with better social service programs, "we're continuing to deliver a vast array of services our constituents trust us to provide on a daily basis," Robbins-Meyer added.
"Any way you look at it, this budget represents another strong step forward," for county government, said board Chairman Nathan Fletcher.
Ebony Shelton, deputy chief administrative officer, said during a budget overview there are potential risks to county finances, including economic changes, retirement costs and inflation. However, the county is well- prepared to meet challenges, she said.
Shelton also said that a revised CAO budget will be released on June 24.
Courtney Baltiyskyy, an official with the YMCA Child Care Resource Service, said her organization "applaud(s) a local government that feels urgency to support all children, families and child care professionals."
County emergency pandemic funding "was a critical step forward and appreciated," said Batiyskyy, also speaking on behalf of the Children First Collective of San Diego.
Ten percent of child care centers and 5% of home-based providers in the county have shuttered, while child care remains very expensive and related waiting lists are long, Baltiyskyy said.
Child care providers who want to expand don't know where to start, because of so many barriers, Batiyskyy said. She added that she others look forward to exploring sustainable funding to help families access child.
Erin Hogeboom, a representative of San Diego for Every Child and Children First Collective San Diego, praised the board for being responsive on child care issue, but said more needs to be done.
"We can't let these families fall through the cracks any longer," Hogeboom said, urging the county to invest in First 5 San Diego, a nonprofit that promotes the well-being of children from the prenatal stage through age 5. "Please show our region's children you value them."
Susie Murphy, executive director of San Diego Mountain Biking Association, said her group supports county Parks and Recreation budget recommendations, including the development of Alpine County Park. To provide more trails "is a commendable effort," Murphy added.
One person during Monday's hearing criticized the county budget priorities as being out of step with public needs, while another singled out problems with wildfire prevention proposals, including clearing vegetation.
In early May, the county released its recommended budget, with significant investments in mental health, homelessness, equity, racial justice and climate change.
The budget would add more than 1,000 staff across stated "priority areas," and maintain essential public safety, land use, health and social services, a county statement read.
The total recommended budget is 1.1% smaller than the budget the County Board of Supervisors approved last year, mainly because many one-time costs for COVID-19 response are no longer needed.
The supervisors must approve a new budget by June 30. The board heard presentations from county departments May 19 and 20.
Included in the budget is a recommendation to add $71.8 million and 115 new positions for county efforts to transform its behavioral health system, from one of crisis response to prevention, continuous care and everyday health care. Funds will support Mobile Crisis Response Teams -- made up of mental health experts rather than law enforcement -- to respond to someone in crisis.
"I am also encouraged by the investments in Mobile Crisis Response Teams, shelter for the homeless and new affordable housing, but there's more work to do to ensure we are maximizing our resources for the greater good of San Diego County residents," Fletcher said earlier in the budget process.
"Over the next several weeks we will engage with individuals, neighborhood groups and other community stakeholders to get their feedback, and determine if we can improve upon this very strong 2022-2023 budget."
Increased investments in the new recommended budget include $11.9 million from one-time stimulus funds to develop affordable housing to reduce homelessness. Another $10 million increase is slated for partnerships with cities to buy shelters and places for people to stay.
In justice reform, more than $130 million is invested in health care services in the county's jails to help offenders, with another $6.2 million for a Youth Development Academy intended to help young people who have committed serious offenses by giving them more intensive, longer-term behavioral health, rehabilitative and skill-building services.
County Probation will use $1 million toward de-escalation training for its staff, supporting the young people they supervise. The Public Defender's Office will add $21.8 million and 90 staff.
According to the budget's recommendations, an Office of Sustainability and Environmental Justice will be funded with $3.5 million, and more than $25 million will be invested to cut greenhouse gas emissions in unincorporated communities, including $1 million to support electric vehicle charging stations.
Nearly $60 million will be spent on other environmental improvements, including $40 million to address stormwater issues, $16.3 million on the Multiple Species Conservation Program and $3.4 million to improve the Tijuana River Valley. More than 3,500 trees intended to trap more than 178,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year will be planted around the county.
The recommended budget also includes $2.9 million for land for a future public safety facility at Interstate 15 and state Route 76, and $250,000 to start plans and design for a new Jacumba fire station.
In addition, the San Diego County Fire Protection District is adding $2.2 million to protect communities and reduce community wildfire risk in unincorporated areas through roadside vegetation management and creating fire breaks. Public Health Services will add 71 new positions.
Supervisor Nora Vargas was attending a National Association of Counties event and absent from Monday's hearing.