SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday kicked off its annual budget hearings, a four-day marathon in which the board approves the county’s budget priorities for the coming fiscal year.
During the hearings, each of the county’s departments present their individual budgets and needs to the county.
The $1.03 billion 2022-23 budget includes the county’s new Public Defender’s Office, which officially begins on July 1. That office represents an annual $14.9 million expenditure, and makes up the lion’s share of the 61.8 positions newly added to this year’s budget.
The new office—the first of its kind in the state—was approved in 2020. It replaces Biggam, Christensen and Minsloff (BCM), which has provided public defender services for the county since 1975.
Also new this year is the county’s Unified Permit Center and the new Community Development and Infrastructure department, for which $213.8 million has been allocated. That department was created last year, combining the Public Works and Planning departments to streamline services.
County officials this year are putting to the test their new budget website, which reportedly allows anyone to navigate the county’s financial inner workings. The Supervisors approved the site in May.
County Administrative Officer Carlos Palacios says the County is expected to rebuild its financial reserves to 10.8% by the end of the year, a notable achievement after a sizable chunk was spent on Covid-19 relief.
“We’re very proud of that, and I know that you should be as well,” he said during his opening remarks for the budget hearings.
Palacios also says that issuing pension obligation bonds earlier this year will save the county $2 million this year, and $61 million in coming years.
Palacios’ report was not all good news.
The County is also facing a state mandate to establish a Community Assistance, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Court, but not providing any funding to do so, he said.
The CARE program was created to help people with mental and substance abuse disorders, and would require adding staff in the County Counsel office, as well as the Public Defender’s and Behavioral Health offices.
In addition, the county is facing $300 million in unfunded deferred maintenance, Palacios said.
The County’s budgetary picture grew somewhat grimmer with County Budget Manager Marcus Pimentel, who said that a majority of economists predict an economic recession within the next few years.
“It’s no longer if—we think it’s when,” he said. “And then how long it will be and what will be the impact.”
Pimentel also predicts funding gaps which, by 2025-26, could mean a reduction in some services.
“There may be some hard tradeoffs and some hard choices ahead should this forecast remain,” he said.
The Pajaronian will continue to cover the budget hearings, which last through June 28.