Time For Priorities
Budget season means decisions, opportunities
By Rich Desmond
Budget season is upon us! This is the time of year when Sacramento County leadership and the five supervisors start discussing what the funding priorities will be for the next fiscal year.
Although the economic fallout from COVID-19 has created uncertainty about the amount of revenue the county can expect in future years, we are fortunate to be receiving a large influx of federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to help meet our fiscal needs in 2021–22.
This money is in addition to the $95 million from the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act in rent relief being administered by the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency and other funds dedicated to public health.
There are many opinions about how this federal stimulus money should be used. The county’s reserves are at historic lows, and there is a need to use some of the money to increase the amount of our “rainy day fund” for emergencies and economic downturns. There is also tremendous pressure to use one-time federal funding to expand certain county programs.
I think it’s crucial to strike the right balance. I support increasing our reserves while setting aside some funds to meet other urgent needs. These are some things I am exploring and discussing:
Our homelessness crisis continues to grow, with thousands living on our streets and public places in despair while local businesses struggle with encampments that leave mounds of trash behind and drive away customers.
We need a new approach that will help provide services to those in need while allowing us to relocate homeless campers from commercial areas and parks into shelters or designated camping locations. To accomplish these goals it will take an investment, and we have a unique opportunity to use some of the federal funds for this purpose.
With an $800 million maintenance backlog in our unincorporated roadways and only $25 million in dedicated maintenance funding each year, the potholes just keep growing!
The Senate Bill 1 gas tax revenues, which were supposed to fund the crumbling roadways, will be significantly lower as revenue from fuel has decreased during the pandemic. We have a chance to use some federal funding to chip away at the backlog that has made our roads among the worst in the state.
SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF
Although our small business community has received some grants and loans to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19, there are still many businesses in desperate need of help. We should explore ways to help local businesses recover some of their losses.
LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE
At the direction of the board, county staff proposed the creation of a Crisis Response System as an alternative to a law enforcement response for behavioral health and quality-of-life issues. Law enforcement has become the default responder to many issues that should be handled by social workers and behavioral health counselors.
The new CRS will work with law enforcement and 911 dispatch centers to develop protocols for triaging and transferring calls that do not involve criminal activity or jeopardize public safety. There are indications that county staff will be pressured to fund this effort by diverting resources from the sheriff’s department. That is a mistake.
Citizens of the unincorporated portion of Sacramento County rely on the sheriff for public safety and a fast response when crimes occur. Unincorporated neighborhoods already experience a lack of adequate law enforcement resources (it is estimated there are 0.8 sheriff deputies for every 1,000 residents in the unincorporated area while there are 1.3 police officers in the city of Sacramento for every 1,000 residents).
We should use some federal stimulus dollars to create the new CRS. While I support efforts to improve transparency, oversight and community trust in our sheriff’s department, I will always work to make sure law enforcement has the resources to keep us safe.
We want to hear your budget priorities. The board clerk is accepting public comment, and I urge you to email firstname.lastname@example.org and call with your comments during budget hearings. I always welcome hearing your thoughts and priorities.
Rich Desmond is Sacramento County supervisor for District 3. He can be reached at email@example.com or (916) 874-5471. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.