Supes approve $36.2B county budget

Los Angeles County Seal.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the $36.2 billion recommended budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 — approximately 5% less than last year’s — during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Despite the financial hit from the pandemic, county CEO Fesia Davenport said the county will avoid layoffs, furloughs and funding curtailments to large departments, such as the Sheriff’s Department.

The 2021-22 recommended budget builds on extensive cuts and a leaner baseline established during the pandemic-era cuts for the 2020-21 budget, which included $369 million in cuts to departments funded with locally generated revenue and eliminated 2,586 positions, according to the budget report.

However, as it stands, the budget is still set to include a significant emphasis on advancing racial equity and justice system reform, continuing the commitment to fighting homelessness and investing in affordable housing and mental health services, among others.

County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, called the budget presentation an important reminder of the county’s role in providing essential services.

“The demand for county services, such as food, housing, and health and mental health care, in conjunction with the increase in unemployment and homelessness, is staggering,” Barger said.

“While I am pleased that today’s budget presentation illustrated we can maintain our level of services without layoffs, furloughs or programmatic decreases, the county’s financial situation is still fluid and we do not yet know the full economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Barger highlighted the unknown impacts surrounding allocating money to Measure J, as this is the first time the county is set to do so, and whether that could decrease available funding for existing services.

The November ballot measure requires 10% of the county’s unrestricted funds, or anywhere between $360 million to $490 million, to be allocated to community-based programs, such as affordable housing, youth development, job training and alternatives to incarceration, including restorative justice programs and health services.

While Davenport recommended the county allocate $100 million for a “down payment” to start implementing Measure J, funding direct community investments and alternatives to incarceration, that money is not set to come from the Sheriff’s Department budget, which remains relatively unchanged at approximately $3.4 billion.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to determine specific allocations for this funding later in the year.

The proposed budget reflects a $2.1 billion decrease from last year’s budget, due in part to county’s $735-million drop in sales tax revenue, as well as the county’s use of one-time funding, such as the $1.22 billion the county received from the CARES Act, used to meet pandemic-related public needs, such as COVID-19 testing, rent relief, as well as food and small business assistance grants.

However, the county expects to receive $1.9 billion in federal coronavirus aid this year from the American Rescue Plan, which is set to be allocated to economic recovery, public health and preparedness for the next emergency.

In addition, the budget includes an increase in Measure H funding, which goes toward homeless services, by nearly $17 million for a total of $426.7 million, to increase the supply of interim housing beds and motel vouchers, as well as fund permanent supportive housing services.

In response to the huge increase in mental health needs during the pandemic, Davenport recommended nearly $30 million to expand the county’s Department of Mental Health’s crisis and intervention services.

“I am eager to see a more comprehensive budget presented by the Chief Executive Office when the Board of Supervisors begins budget deliberations in May and June,” Barger added. “I am hopeful that our financial health will remain and enable our board to continue to provide essential services while also saving toward our ‘rainy day’ fund — which proved crucial in the last year.”

Budget hearings for the public are scheduled May 19, before Davenport returns before the Board of Supervisors with any revisions to the recommended 2021-22 county budget by June.

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