The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors just concluded its annual budget process, and since it is often said that a budget is an expression of community values, I wanted to share some of the highlights of the budget for the coming year.
First, we’ve been responsible with your money. In the last few years we’ve tripled our reserves and negotiated with employees to reduce future pension and health care obligations. That has allowed us to reduce our debt to historically low levels while improving our credit rating so that we now have one of the highest ratings available. Additionally, we’ve held staffing levels below peaks – nearly 10 percent below pre-recession staffing. The budget we just passed includes no layoffs or cuts to critical services, which is happening in other communities around California.
Over the last year, we have invested in the community, establishing both to the Nurse-Family Partnership and Thrive-by-Three programs to assist with early childhood development of underprivileged children. We greatly expanded drug and alcohol treatment, and in the first three months of 2018 saw the number of people seeking treatment more than double compared to last year. And we invested in Whole Person Care to make sure low-income people, including homeless persons, with multiple health issues get the care they need.
Our Sheriff’s Office has added service centers and staffing. In our district, we remodeled the Rountree Detention Facility to help offenders get the job training and life skills needed to keep from reoffending. We reopened the Blaine Street Center to help women transition from jail back into the community. The District Attorney opened the Multi-Disciplinary Center to help investigate crimes against children in a more comfortable environment.
Helping the Homeless
We increased emergency winter shelter capacity for homeless residents by 30 percent and are looking to establish a year-round shelter. We announced more than $2 million in grants to help the nearly 600 unaccompanied minors and young adults living on our streets. This demographic is the largest growing homeless population locally and more clearly needs to be done.
We increased the number of veterans served through our Veteran’s Service Office by 20 percent, and increased the number of families receiving CalFresh (formerly Food Stamps) by 14 percent. We made government more efficient, allowing people to submit electronic building plans and installed large solar arrays at many different County facilities, which saves money and improves our local environment.
Public Roads and Facilities
We made enormous progress toward repairing the more than $100 million in road damage from the 2017 winter storms and are pursuing the first set of Measure D funded road projects. Additionally, we created new tools making it easier to build accessory dwelling units, giving people a chance to age in place as well as helping alleviate our housing crisis. We made significant progress toward new a library in Aptos and a remodeled library in La Selva Beach, are building a new pump track for young mountain bikers at Pinto Lake County Park.
Quality of Life Agenda
But we still have much more to do. During our community outreach on the strategic plan, we heard that many want additional investments in mental health and homeless resources, improved housing options as well as additional upgrades to parks and increased public safety. Sheriff Jim Hart has outlined a behavioral health partnership to get more people the treatment they need, but we have yet to find the money to pay for it.
We have a significant homelessness crisis and we know that addressing this issue, and affordable housing (which is connected) are top priorities for our community. We have maintenance needs throughout our parks, including committed improvements to Hidden Beach Park, Aldridge and Seacliff Village Park in our district. We need to complete Chanticleer Park, which will include the County’s first all-inclusive playground for children with disabilities. These are all issues you’ve brought to us, and I want you to know we have heard you and are working on solutions.
We have never forgotten that every choice we make with a dollar can impact a life for the better. As we move forward together into the future, we expect we will find solutions to these challenges, just as we have met the challenges that have come before.
As always, if you have any questions or suggestions please feel free to call me at 454-2200.