The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, April 18 adopted a preliminary budget of $43 billion, representing a $1.6 billion decrease from last year’s spending blueprint, yet the new budget adds 514 positions that are mostly funded by federal and state revenues.
The release of the first draft of a 2023-2024 budget allows for public review during budget hearings starting on May 10. After comments are received and additional data considered, final budget changes are scheduled for June 26 with adoption tentatively planned for Oct. 3.
A budget letter from county CEO Fesia Davenport warns of budgetary clouds on the horizon, from higher mortgage rates slowing home sales and cutting into property tax revenues, to a ripple effect expected from a state budget deficit estimated at $29 billion.
But the biggest concern involves a change in state law allowing childhood sexual abuse victims more time to file claims. Davenport anticipates the new law could result in 3,000 new legal claims of sexual assault against county facilities that may cost between $1.6 billion and $3 billion.
Davenport called the possible financial toll a “staggering potential liability,” one that adds up to the county’s “most serious fiscal challenges in recent history” that could curtail future funding of county programs.
“The fact we can have a $3 billion liability is sobering for how we can leverage finite resources for an incredibly needy 10 million people,” said Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell.
The budget postponed $1.9 billion in requests for funding from various county departments. Of that, $813.2 million could be incorporated into budget revisions while the remainder will not be included.
Davenport has recommended the following top spending priorities, some with enhancements over last year:
• $283 million toward alternatives to incarceration, which includes an additional bump of $88.3 million. The money goes to programs that address racial disparities in the justice system
• $49.6 million toward improving conditions in county jails, as part of a response to a court order from the U.S. Department of Justice.
• $6.6 million to fund a restart of the Sheriff’s Department’s Office of Constitutional Policing, in an effort to investigate and ultimately eliminate deputy gangs.
• $692 million toward reducing homelessness that includes investments in mental health outreach, supportive services and housing programs. This is a $160 million increase from last year.
Anthony Arenas with the Justice LA Coalition, said the county needs to put more money toward alternatives to incarceration. “The $88 million is disappointing. Once again the county is falling short,” he said.
The budget includes the following additional positions: 195 positions are being added to the Department of Mental Health (DMH) — some will provide care in the Hollywood and Antelope Valley communities, while the others will be used for mental health services, reentry services for women and outreach to homeless veterans on skid row; 86 clinicians at county hospitals and clinics; 70 positions for the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS); 60 positions to support wildfire suppression.
Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Janice Hahn was pleased to see new positions in the budget but said that’s only half the battle. The other half — filling positions — has been a huge roadblock to providing services. She said the county has 17,000 vacancies, including mental health workers and lifeguards.
“The County of Los Angeles is in the mood to hire. Now is the time. Come see us,” she said.
A related motion from Supervisor Holly Mitchell, that would have called back some past motions that were adopted without sources of funding, failed, 2 to 3, with Mitchell and Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger voting yes, while Hahn, First District Supervisor Hilda Solis and Third District Supervisor Lindsey Horvath voted no.
Hahn called this a significant change in budgeting priorities and wanted to know how many motions this would affect. Mitchell said her own research found it would have affected 30 so-called unfunded motions.
Introductory language contained in the failed motion discussed Tuesday afternoon noted that the Board of Supervisors had allowed for funding of multiple new programs and priorities in the past five years, with overall county spending rising from $30 billion in 2018 to $44 billion in 2022-2023, while “current economic and financial indicators foretell an uncertain future for the County’s fiscal state.”
Mitchell said her motion, co-authored with Barger, would have helped the board prioritize new programs and new funding, in instances where funding is not available to cover them all. “There’s no worse policy than to create a good program that we have to scale back or eliminate because we can’t afford it in the long run,” she said.