As San Diego County works its way toward adopting a budget for the next fiscal year, county supervisors are getting an earful from community activists and their own employees on where funds need to be directed.
Since the release of a report from the Center on Policy Initiatives finding that the county has $2.8 billion in reserves, including $1.7 billion that isn't firmly committed to future expenditures, civic activists have been calling for the county to free up some of its stockpiled cash for the benefit of residents.
"The number that most fiscal analysts who've looked at municipal budgets look for [to determine stability and optimum creditworthiness] is 14 or 15 percent of annual spending in reserves," Karim Bouris of the Main Street Alliance of San Diego tells me. "We're at 48 percent."
The Alliance has issued its own report, proposing investments to improve enrollment in CalFresh and other safety net programs that it claims could bring another $1 billion in economic activity to the county if eligible participants were enrolled. The group suggests investing in job training and affordable housing programs.
County supervisors Ron Roberts and Dianne Jacob have made a nod toward at least one of these issues, hosting a press conference outside the county administration building on Monday proposing the creation of a $25 million fund to pay for affordable housing targeting senior, veteran, and youth homeless at up to 11 potential sites identified across the county.
"I've never seen it worse than it is today," Roberts told media assembled on Monday afternoon. "The biggest and most visible symptom of this issue is the expanding population of homeless on the streets across the county, and that includes families and seniors.
"Homeless numbers are driven in large part by a very limited supply of affordable homes amidst rising rents. No segment of the population is immune— we need more affordable housing. We need more housing!"
Though he says his group has yet to see a complete proposal to review, Bouris believed such a fund would be a step in the right direction.
"The initial reaction is yes, please! These are the kind of investments we want to encourage the county to be making," Bouris said.
At a public comment session on Wednesday evening, a reported crowd of 1000 gathered, with over 100 signing up for time slots to voice their concerns to supervisors. Amidst supporters of pet causes (often their own sources of income via county funds), topics that garnered repeated mention included the budget surplus, an urge for increased homeless funding, and for expansion of youth services and the aforementioned safety net programs.
A large contingent of county employees also showed up to complain about poor pay in comparison to similar jobs in other municipalities across Southern California, and union negotiations that have been at an impasse for months.
"What I see at my job is horrible every day," Child Welfare Services officer Karen Mulcahey testified, describing a number of abuses she's witnessed. "Then I go home to my own children. As a single mother, I try to provide for them on less than $2500 a month. I do it because I care about the children I work with, but there is no excuse as to why county employees are paid substantially less than in other counties."
County employees bemoaned the fact that negotiators with their union disallowed comparisons to neighboring counties in talks, at the same time alleging that such comparisons were used when the board voted to give themselves a 12.5% pay raise in January.
The budget issue will be revisited on June 27, when supervisors are likely to vote on final approval.