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County’s new $7.36 billion budget highlights mental health, homelessness and environment

San Diego County administration building
San Diego County’s $7.36 billion budget for 2022-23 boosts spending by $126 million over the previous fiscal year. Pictured is the county administration building at San Diego’s Waterfront Park.
(File)

The spending plan adds 1,000 staff positions and boosts funding by $126 million over the previous fiscal year.

San Diego County’s $7.36 billion budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year includes hundreds of millions of dollars to tackle behavioral health, homelessness and environmental issues.

The county Board of Supervisors on June 28 unanimously approved the spending plan for the fiscal year that began July 1. It represents a bump of $200 million over a draft budget released in May.

“We are approving a budget that I believe is the greatest investment in some of the most pressing needs in our region’s history,” board Chairman Nathan Fletcher said.

The budget boosts spending by $126 million, or 1.5 percent, over the previous fiscal year and adds 1,000 new staff positions, according to county Chief Financial Officer Ebony Shelton. That’s a reversal of proposals in the draft budget, which would have trimmed spending by 1.1 percent from last year.

“We have made the largest investment ever in behavioral health services in the history of our county,” Fletcher said in a statement. “Unprecedented investments on programs to help unsheltered San Diegans. Significant funding to upgrade the health care services and staffing in our county jails. Plus, we are investing more to fight climate change, address stormwater issues and plant more trees countywide, keep our communities safe by funding public safety, protect neighborhoods from the dangers of wildfires, and build more affordable housing.”

About half of the $200 million funding increase between the draft and final budgets comes from a newly negotiated labor agreement with county workers, with an additional $97.6 million dedicated to that contract, Shelton said.

Among other additions are an extra $29.8 million to cover capital projects at park and recreation facilities, $16 million for a dual-engine firefighting helicopter, and $2.2 million to reduce wildfire risk through brush clearance and construction of fire breaks.

Public safety spending is up a quarter-billion dollars over the previous year, from about $2.25 billion to $2.5 billion. That boost includes $130 million in spending for health care in county jails, which have come under scrutiny for high rates of in-custody deaths in recent years.

Health & Human Services Agency spending is down by about $27 million due to the elimination of some one-time pandemic funds. Despite the overall cuts to the department, the board approved new spending for behavioral health care and other social services.

The new budget reflects the board’s efforts to reform treatment of mental health and substance abuse, with an additional $71.8 million and 115 new positions for behavioral health programs that emphasize prevention and maintenance over crisis care, supervisors said.

Instead of patients with mental illness or substance abuse issues cycling in and out of emergency rooms, the board aims to “really build out a broad system of care that recognizes the very real nature of mental health, that changes our approach to addiction with the desire to get people well and give them an opportunity to live lives that are thriving and stable,” Fletcher said.

The budget also adds money to address homelessness and bolster resources for children, families and senior citizens. That includes $11.9 million from one-time stimulus funds to develop affordable housing and $10 million to collaborate with cities on new shelter space, according to Fletcher’s office.

The budget adds 100 new positions for Child Welfare Services, another 100 for Calfresh and Medi-Cal programs, and 60 for in-home services for seniors and people with disabilities.

The budget also adds about $60 million for environmental projects, including $40 million for stormwater mitigation and $16.3 million for the Multiple Species Conservation Program.

“I particularly want to acknowledge the way big and small sustainability has been highlighted and elevated across all our county operations,” said Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, whose District 3 includes La Jolla.

Supervisors said they were satisfied that the county spending plan will benefit residents in cities as well as those in unincorporated communities.

“This delivers to the county across the board,” Supervisor Joel Anderson said. “Everybody rises with this tide. And to do it in a fiscally sound way is really remarkable.” ◆