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Revised County budget - ignoring advocates

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

On September 7, 2022 the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors held a meeting. In this piece we'll be discussing item 4, the Public Hearing On, And Consideration Of Possible Revisions To, The Fiscal Year 2022-23 Approved Recommended Budget.

When the Recommended Budget was approved in June of 2022 it mostly kept the status quo for county budgeting in tact. There were some wins (that you can find covered in our previous write-up linked here), notably that the Public Defender’s Office got over $4 million in budget increases, including two new attorneys for their Pre-trial Support Program, which gets people out of jail and connected to services.

For the most part however, the Revised Budget discussed on 9/7/22 failed to make any new meaningful social-justice informed changes.

After 28 years on the Board of Supervisors, it is Chair Nottoli’s last budget. And he thought it went pretty smoothly relatively speaking.

County Executive Ann Edwards started off the item like this:

Alright Ann, that seems like a bit much...

Sac County Chief Fiscal Officer Amanda Thomas (pictured below) presented the revised recommended budget; presentation slides linked here.

The revised budget presented can be found in full at this link.

On June 9, 2022, the Board of Supervisors approved the Recommended Budget (“Approved Budget”).

The Revised Recommended Budget presented on September 7 2022 (text below pulled from revised budget doc linked above):

reflects adjustments to the Approved Budget resulting from additional State and Federal funding, re-budgeting of capital projects and other expenditures not completed in FY 2021-22, updated estimates of discretionary and Semidiscretionary (Realignment and Proposition 172) resources, and actual unaudited FY 2021-22 ending fund balances

(slide pulled presentation deck linked above)

There’s a lot more money in the County’s piggybank than they originally budgeted for.

The Approved Budget (June 2022) for all funds totaled $7.3 billion in appropriations. With the 2021-22 year-end financial closing activities and updated information, the Revised Recommended Budget (September 2022) increased by $540 million to $7.9 billion for all funds.

(slide pulled presentation deck linked above)

With a steadily increasing overall fund balance, the County is moving a bigger chunk of cash towards its reserves. Saving it, for later, “to help ensure the County’s ability to maintain service levels in the future.” It seems that given the housing crisis, not to mention the myriad other human rights crises residents of Sac County are facing, it would make more sense to actually invest an adequate amount of funds to try and right some of those wrongs. Those who are struggling have already reached the point where they are unable to access the services they need. That should be the metric for how we view the overall well-being of the county.

Where did this extra reserve money come from? Chief Fiscal Officer Amanda Thomas said the reason was basically that there were challenges and delays in spending budgeted funds due to COVID-19 and to projects being stalled or positions not being filled.

Supervisor Kennedy and Serna made sure to point out for ‘all those watching at home’ how much the County is spending on addressing homelessness - that it is around $181 million a year, not just the $6 million increase shown in the presentation for the Revised Recommended Budget. Increases to program funding (appropriations chart linked here) were presented. However, let it not be forgotten that a good chunk of that money comes from one-time ARPA funding, AND that the County has not only failed to take meaningful action to combat homelessness, but has enacted policies that actively harm and worsen living conditions for our unhoused neighbors (for example, see their anti-camping ordinances).

Public Commenters weighed in on the disproportionate amount of money that the County uses to fund carceral systems rather than systems that would actually provide for the health and safety of our community members.

Several commentors mentioned this study from the California Pan Ethnic Health Network outlining, among other things, County budget allocations in Sacramento.

Below you will find some powerful public comments from community members, activists, and advocates.

Listed from top to bottom: Mackenzie Wilson, Niki Jones, Rick, Dan

Now, a few more Supervisor comments!

First up: Supervisor Serna

Serna made comments recognizing the state of the economy, “being cognizant” of rising inflation and cost of living.

He thanked the Community Care First Coalition for their work and advocacy to prioritize social services, especially housing services (read their letter here). Recognizing the dire circumstance “in terms of dearth of affordable housing,” Supervisor Serna proposed a “modest” budget revision for a $5 million pilot project - a voluntary tax incentive initiative (for example, rebates) for property owners to provide affordable housing for individuals/households who are “one paycheck away” and rent-burdened, and potentially individuals experiencing homelessness who already receive housing vouchers, depending on how the program is designed.

Supervisor Frost asked some questions about implementation- mainly, what it would mean for property owners and property taxes and what the County may or may not be forcing upon them. Supervisor Desmond, Nottoli, and Kennedy expressed support for Supervisor Serna’s proposal, calling it creative and innovative, acknowledging the need for innovative solutions to incentivize partnerships on affordable housing.

County Executive Ann Edwards described rental housing market conditions in Sacramento: “people are on the brink” and that “our vacancy rate for rental units is very very low.” She said County staff and Supervisor Serna haven’t worked out all of the details of the pilot program yet but it would be voluntary and they would “start small” to serve as a “homeless prevention program.”

Supervisor Desmond said he supports the idea of maintaining Sacramento’s current inventory of affordable housing and also incentivizing emergency housing vouchers as well to attract new construction of affordable housing – to which Supervisor Serna said yes, let’s do it.

Supervisor Kennedy called it a worthy idea, while supportive, cautioned that scattered site housing options that only house 5-6 people at a time isn’t a significant solution, especially at the per person cost and difficulty in finding operators – calling the sustainability of the single family scattered site path ‘questionable’. Supervisor Kennedy said it has to be multifamily housing to address the crisis - to which Supervisor Serna said yes.

City staff made the point that this will primarily function as a rent reduction for current renters - which is not a bad thing obviously, but just to be clear, it doesn't create new affordable housing. It's also a voluntary plan, which probably makes it pretty ineffective. Not an awful proposal, but it probably will not have much impact either.

Next up: Supervisor Desmond

Desmond made a pitch to his colleagues to “rope off $3 million dollars” to combat the proliferation of "urban blight", which he described as being present in neighborhoods profoundly lacking County engagement and investment. The investment would go towards things like street lighting, utility poles, landscaping, and involving the Department of Transportation, neighborhood associations, code enforcement, and PBIDs. His stated goal is to improve economic vitality and make people feel more safe and proud of their neighborhoods. Supervisor Frost chimed in to say that while she’s “always a proponent for more reserves”, she thought the idea had real merit and was open to a pilot, but wanted a plan for spending the money.

Cleaning up actual trash, building new streetlights, etc. is not a bad thing, but it's hard to trust that the county won't use this sort of program as a pretext for the mistreatment/removal of unhoused folx, especially given the mention of collaborating with code enforcement and PBIDs (read a piece of ours on PBIDs here).

Finally: Supervisor Nottolli

Chair Don Nottoli pitched his budget revision request for funding for age friendly community projects and animal care services.

With all the changes incorporated, the Board voted unanimously to adopt the Revised Recommended Budget.

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