By Zach Friend
The Board of Supervisors recently completed our budget hearings and as part of the hearings we received reports from departments about their goals for the coming year based on Board priorities. I wanted to give you an overview of some of those goals for the coming fiscal year and also provide some interesting facts about our local community. First, the facts.
Santa Cruz County Unincorporated Area Overview
The County’s total population is just under 275,000 with approximately 50 percent living in the unincorporated area. To put this in perspective, if the unincorporated county were a local city we would be larger than Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Scotts Valley and most of Capitola combined.
Nearly 20 percent of our local population is under the age of 18 while 32 percent speak a language other than English at home. Over 38 percent of our population over the age of 25 has a bachelor’s degree or higher and our median income is 109 percent of the California median and 125 percent of the U.S. median.
However, our cost of living, with a median home price of over $830,000, means these higher incomes do not translate to income security. The largest segment of our population that lives in poverty, 17 percent, are under the age of 18 while over 7 percent of our seniors live in poverty.
Funding vs. Mandates
Some of these challenges include cuts to Medicaid and phasing out recent expansion of eligibility, cuts to CalFresh spending and changing eligibility requirements and CalWorks, reduction in the match rate for children’s health insurance program which supports children enrolled in Medi-Cal and reductions in federal affordable housing assistance and grants.
Even with some of these state and federal funding uncertainties, county departments outlined some of their goals (based on Board priorities) for the coming year.
Here is a short list of example highlights from departments on goals for the coming year.
County Service Goals
In Health and Human Services departments they are working to increase participation in CalFresh, CalWorks and utilization of Veteran’s benefits, Increase primary care visits provided to low-income patients and improve community access to behavioral health and substance abuse treatments, respond with flexibility to changing federal funding priorities while continuing to care for our most vulnerable populations and complete the implementation of new CORE Investments (community programs funding) model.
The departments are working on a physical expansion at the Emeline Campus and Watsonville Health Center to provide for more exam rooms as well as the completion of the Behavioral Health Office Building in Watsonville.
Our Public Safety and Justice departments are working to complete Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (for child victims of crime), complete implementation of the body worn camera program, improve responses to persons experiencing mental health crisis, pursue national lab accreditation status for forensics unit and infuse Community Policing strategies through patrol unit.
Additionally, the departments are working to continue to adjust juvenile programming to decrease incidents and recidivism. Some notable capital projects are planned (or in progress) including completion of the Rountree facility construction and work on Juvenile Hall improvements.
In our Land Use and Community Services departments (such as Parks and Planning) there are plans to replace the parks registration software program with a new user-friendlier version, to create a junior ranger program and complete the Parks strategic planning process to help guide their work in the coming years.
In Planning they are working to complete changes to our Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) program and also our hosted rentals program. Planning is working on affordable housing projects and updates to land-use and planning regulations including cannabis cultivation.
This is just a very short list of the programs and projects County departments are planning for the coming year that were discussed during budget hearings.
As always, I appreciate hearing your thoughts. If you have any questions or I can be of any assistance please feel free to call me at 454-2200.