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County budget invests in people, services

06/28/19

Editorial originally appeared in San Diego Uptown News

“The noblest motive is the public good.” That motto is inscribed in the seal of the County of San Diego and I see it daily when I enter the building. The public good is best served when we are taking action to address the challenges our region faces.

The recently adopted $6.25 billion county budget is a step in the right direction of moving us toward action and progress, particularly in tackling the challenges of mental health, homelessness and housing.

The county is headed in a new direction with its spending and the board-approved budget reflects the community’s priorities and those of my district.

Making a greater investment in behavioral health services was high on my priority list and now we are increasing our commitment. The county is funding a significant expansion in outpatient prevention services, including 177 behavioral health beds. We are also increasing our staff of behavioral health workers by 143. Targeted action and resources will help more people confront their mental health and substance abuse challenges and support regional efforts to tackle the homeless crisis. The Behavioral Health Services budget total is $708 million for fiscal year 2019-20, a $54.7 million increase over last year.

More affordable housing is needed across the county. In order to expedite the process, we added 11 Housing and Community Development Services staffers to help ensure the 600-700 affordable housing units in our pipeline can be brought online faster. We also added $25 million to the Innovative Housing Trust Fund.

In Child Welfare Services, we are adding more resources and 125 new positions, including a significant number of protective social workers. A few months ago, Supervisor Greg Cox and I were named co-chairs of the new Child and Family Strengthening Advisory Board to bring greater accountability to the county’s child welfare system. If we are going to honor this work and truly fulfill our responsibility to heal abused and neglected children and mend families, we needed to invest in expanding our workforce.

We have also budgeted $200,000 in the Office of the Public Defender to help immigrant families retain legal counsel regarding their immigration status. These services will provide needed support with understanding the deportation process and immigrants. We have a moral obligation to help our immigrant neighbors make informed decisions.

Additionally, we needed to become more proactive with our public health initiatives in the year ahead, so we are hiring 27 public health nurses and other staff to carry out these duties. We are also going to bring on 15 people to work in the community to raise awareness and connect county residents with critical services such as Medi-Cal, CalFresh and CalWorks.

Throughout the county, but particularly in District 4, we are investing more in activities for youth. We have allocated $300,000 to expand the San Diego Nights Program from unincorporated parts of the county to 10 nearby locations where we have higher rates of delinquency and poverty. This program will increase opportunities for youth to participate in safe, enriching activities. The San Diego Nights Program is a proven model for reducing juvenile delinquency, preventing gang violence and it promotes overall community safety.

These are just some highlights of the significant investments the county is making in people and programs in the next fiscal year. I attribute this shift in priorities to our more open and transparent budget process.

I believe our democracy works best when we have the highest level of engagement from the community.

To ensure this year’s budget process offered more input from residents, we passed a measure to restore the evening budget hearing. In the lead-up to the evening meeting, I hosted three community budget forums in my district. Hundreds were in attendance.

At each step in this more transparent budgeting process, we successfully demonstrated the voice of the people was being heard. The sum of these actions helped to build trust between the community and the county; setting a new precedent for years to come.

The result was that together, the community and the county, have delivered a budget that ensures we meet our financial obligations, and that will provide programs and services that offer the greatest benefit to the people we serve.

To learn more about the County of San Diego’s budget, visit SanDiegoCounty.gov. To connect with my office call 619-531-5544 or email Nathan.Fletcher@sdcounty.ca.gov. Follow us on Twitter @SupFletcher and Facebook @SupervisorFletcherSD.

 

— Supervisor Nathan Fletcher was elected in 2018 to represent District 4 on the County Board of Supervisors.