OC Supervisors Offer Preliminary Support of $8.8 Billion Budget


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SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County supervisors Tuesday preliminarily approved an $8.8 billion annual budget, which amounts to about $1.1 billion more than last year.

The supervisors did not make any amendments to the proposed budget that staffers released last month.

The increased budget reflects a combination of inflation and additional revenue from the state and federal governments to meet a rising demand for services during the COVID-19 pandemic, Orange County CEO Frank Kim told City News Service last month.

The only major change proposed Tuesday came from Supervisor Katrina Foley, who wanted $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funding to be used to provide $100,000 mortgage down payments for county employees, who are first-time homebuyers.

"We currently have a mortgage assistance program, but this is different," Foley said.

She said many employees are "moving to the Inland Empire because they can't afford to live here in Orange County."

But her plan failed to get seconded by anyone else on the board.

Supervisor Don Wagner noted that he received letters endorsing the plan from county employee unions, though he was unaware of it.

"I had no idea what they were talking about," Wagner said. "This is a strange way of going about making the request. It's worth considering, but normally agenda items come to us the week before, or maybe they can come the Friday before ... But clearly this was something floated out in the community because I got the support  letters before I actually got the item."

Foley passed out her proposal at the meeting as she was making the request.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett called it "very much last-minute," and argued that any sort of program would need a great deal more analysis by county officials.

Foley said, "I remember last year at this time there were a couple of items brought up on this basis and they were moved forward."

Foley said she would be willing to have county officials review the plan and come back to the board with a proposal, but that request also died for lack of a second.

Most of the annual budget is dedicated funding for state and federal programs.

Kim said sales tax revenue is up 9.1% from May 2021, and is the primary source of revenue for law enforcement services.

The county received $308.4 million in American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funding for COVID-19 relief the last fiscal year and anticipates getting the same amount before the end of the current fiscal year. That funding was used to help pay for meals for the needy, economic support to arts-related small businesses and nonprofit organizations, and the development of a new emergency medical services operating facility at the former El Toro air base in Irvine.

The county is also developing a mental health facility in Irvine, called the Be Well South Campus, and a new campus for juvenile offenders as the state shifts more responsibility for low-level criminal defendants to local authorities.

The county is expecting $44.6 million in property tax revenue in the next fiscal year.

The proposed budget anticipated setting aside $417.4 million from Proposition 172 sales tax revenue for public safety. Of that, 80% goes to the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the rest to the District Attorney's Office. That's a 6% increase over last fiscal year.

The county is expected to add 178 more jobs.

The county is still getting shorted on security for the state's courthouses, officials said. The county spent $15.7 million to plug a gap from the 2019-20 to 2020-21 fiscal years and is projecting gaps of $16.8 million and $10.5 million in the 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscal years.

The supervisors will consider final approval of the budget on June 28.

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