Unveiling San Diego County's first billion-dollar budget, Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey on Monday sent his 1986-87 spending proposal to the Board of Supervisors for debate.
Hickey, who assumed the county's highest nonelected post in January, called his $1.025-billion budget a "prudent . . . hold-the-line proposal." The proposed budget is 8.7% higher than the current $942-million budget.
According to Hickey's recommendations, about $523 million, or 53.9%, would go to health and social services. The next biggest expenditure, $206.5 million, or 20.1%, would fund county law enforcement agencies, including the courts, district attorney's office and the Sheriff's Department.
Despite the record spending proposal, Hickey warned that the new budget was put together from limited financial resources and falls far short of meeting the county's needs. He blamed Proposition 13 restrictions and a cutback in federal funding for the county's current inability to meet the region's service needs.
"The sad truth is that the county cannot cover all the legitimate demands with its limited resources and the constitutional reality that counties have no authority to raise tax revenues to cover new and ongoing costs," he said in a prepared statement.
Hickey said that most programs will have to be funded below their "optimum levels" and warned that others will have to be eliminated. The programs to be eliminated will be announced after public hearings on the budget.
The $523 million budgeted for health and social services represents an 8.65% increase over the current budget for those services. Much of the increase resulted from a "significant" upgrading of services provided by county hospital and mental health facilities and the coroner's office, Hickey said.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen said at the press conference that the increased health funding is necessary because the county's health programs had been neglected in the past and because of pressure from state officials.
"What you saw happen last year was Proposition 13 catching up in a number of areas (including) social and health services that had not been funded," Janssen said. "Before, increases were going into the public protection area, which is where people want the money spent. They want to be safe in their homes.
"We didn't have that alternative last year. The state said either you fix these places (the Hillcrest mental health hospital and Edgemoor Geriatric Hospital) or you shut them down. And the board chose to fix them. . . . So, those are the kinds of decisions that have shifted the expenditures into social and health services."
By contrast, the $206.5 million allocated for county law enforcement agencies represents a 4.53% increase over the current fiscal year. This modest increase means that Sheriff John Duffy will have to wait for a new 600-bed jail that he has been lobbying hard for, Hickey said. Hickey's budget proposal also excludes funding for prisoner booking facilities requested by Duffy in East County and the South Bay.
"There were a lot of things taken out of the budget years ago that are causing problems now," Hickey said. "For example, the hospitals, and if the Sheriff's Department had built the jail years ago, obviously we wouldn't be in such a crisis."
The biggest proposed increase in the budget comes in funding for administrative purposes. Hickey has asked for $185 million, a 14.7% increase over current funding.
Hickey said that he does not expect any county staff reductions this year. During the current fiscal year the county has hired an additional 1,000 employees. Even with this increase, the county only has 5.73 employees per thousand residents to serve the county's 2.16 million population. This ratio falls short of 1979 figures, when there were 7.43 employees per thousand residents, Hickey said.
Janssen said the county would need an additional $70 million in revenue to hire additional personnel to provide "a minimum of public service" to county residents.
"Child abuse, for example; we have no money to put into child abuse," Janssen said. "We're receiving 36,000 calls a year in child abuse. The social worker has four hours a month for a child, and one of those is for paper work. There is no money to put in that area, and you can go into almost every county department and find the same thing."