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County approves largest budget in history, aims to help 'most vulnerable'

On June 26, San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved its largest budget ever: a $6.27 billion budget that includes increased commitments to mental health, homelessness and addiction services, breaking down barriers to success for those exiting the criminal justice system, increasing housing affordability and investing in neighborhoods and natural resources.

Board Chairwoman Kristin Gaspar said she was very proud to put her seal of approval on the 2018-19 budget.

“We’re looking at adopting a budget that aligns beautifully with our Live Well vision and that prevention strategy that we have for the region; that takes care of all San Diegans with a special emphasis on the most vulnerable populations that we have,” Gaspar said. “No, it’s never enough, we can’t solve all of these challenges all at one time but we’re certainly on the right track.”

The 2018-19 budget represents more than an 8 percent increase from the previous year’s spending made possible by an extra $500 million in revenue from property taxes, grants, fees, pass-throughs and other traditional income sources.

Overall, $2.1 billion of the budget, or 33.6 percent, will go to Health and Human Services. Just over 30 percent, or $1.9 billion, will go to Public Safety. Capital projects received the largest funding boost with $275 million total, nearly 80 percent more than the previous budget.

The largest share of proposed spending in all categories will go toward salaries, which account for $2.23 billion of the total budget. That includes an increase of 179 full-time equivalent positions.

The plan includes items such as $120 million to implement a new drug-treatment program for Medi-Cal recipients, 12 new public-health nurse jobs, and $2 million to help caregivers who have the burden of taking care of family members with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Additionally, the county will fund a pilot program in which mental health professionals, and not solely law enforcement, are dispatched to assist individuals having psychological episodes.

At the meeting, several speakers urged the county to tap into its reserves and create an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Services for what they said is a crisis happening on the border. Speakers from Invest in San Diego Families spoke on behalf of the children and families being torn apart at the border and said the county should take a page from Los Angeles County, where the board of supervisors is encouraging county agencies to visit shelters and assist in placing children separated from their parents with other relatives.

Kathy Stadler argued that San Diego’s “immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters are among the most vulnerable among us and deserve the protection of the county.”

“It’s immoral and inhumane to separate children from their families,” said Aaron Brennan. “As a veteran, it’s the opposite of what I’ve deployed for. We are the United States of America, we are protectors of the innocent, not tormenters.”

He said it was “shameful” that the supervisors voted to join President Donald Trump’s lawsuit against California over the sanctuary laws that the state passed to limit its role in immigration enforcement.

Standing “trembling” at the dais, Robert Marin shared his story about returning to San Diego from a high school cross country meet in Los Angeles to find his parents had been deported.

“Where was the county when I needed help?” Marin asked. “We should stand together with these immigrant families. Give one more person an opportunity, give one more child hope. It might be the only one they have.”

While the county does not have an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Services, the Health and Human Service Agency provides a wide array of services and support for nearly 10,000 refugees in the county, according to Nick Macchione, the director of the county’s Health and Human Service Agency.

“Our hearts go out to the families that were talked about but the Health and Human Service Agency has no jurisdiction for women or children that cross the border to seek asylum and enter into the U.S.,” Macchione said. “The families are detained on federal property by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and provided care by federal government. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t provide the services as it is managed by the federal government.”

Macchione said he is proud of the services the county provides which includes a community action partnership that works with many refugee organizations throughout the county, a county refugee coordinator who serves on the state’s refugee advisory committee, refugee employment programs and an office of refugee health.

“In this budget, there’s $7.5 million to continue all of these services that we provide for our refugees,” Macchione said. “We do embrace the importance and value of working and serving all of our refugee families.”

District 5 Supervisor Bill Horn was passing his 24th and final budget, before he leaves office this year—he recalled when he took office in 1995, the county was on the verge of bankruptcy. He said that the county is now in great shape and he’s proud of what the board has built for the last 24 years.

“I challenge the next generation of supervisors to maintain this high standard,” Horn said, adding that the citizens don’t deserve anything less than fiscal responsibility. “Thank you for 24 years of fun…I like how we’re spending the money and I’m happy to report we no longer have to cut the sheriff’s department, the library or mental health to make books balanced.”

--City News Service contributed to this report

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