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San Diego County releases $7.15B budget with focuses on mental health, housing

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Posted at 12:20 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 15:55:07-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — San Diego County released its recommended $7.15 billion budget Thursday, 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.

"We have worked over the last four years to redirect the priorities of the county to create a budget centered on investments and action to make a positive difference for San Diego, and our efforts are starting to take hold, which is evidenced by this latest budget," said San Diego Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher. "It's the best recommended budget that I've seen since joining the board because of its focus on supporting working families and vulnerable communities."

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 will get an overview of the budget during presentations by county departments at public meetings May 19 and 20. The public can comment in person or by phone at two budget hearings in June: a daytime hearing June 13, and an evening session June 16. People can also comment online through e-comment until budget hearings close.

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. "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 their 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 located 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.

The public can attend virtual community budget meetings for each Board of Supervisors district:

-- May 23: District 3;

-- May 31: District 4;

-- June 2: District 1;

-- June 6: District 5; and

-- June 8: District 2