This year has been one filled with extraordinary circumstances, forcing us to adapt in the way we do even the most routine of things. The budget process for Sacramento County is no exception. For those who may not have been following the County’s budget process this year, here is a quick refresher. Ordinarily, we adopt our budget for the upcoming fiscal year in June. This year, the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic created too much uncertainty for the County’s revenue streams. To adjust, the board of Supervisors adopted a temporary budget that extended the level of funding for each department from the ’19-’20 budget. On September 9th, we started budget hearings for the new fiscal year with the up to date requests from each department. I want to take this opportunity to provide you some of the major takeaways from the adopted budget.
Let’s start with the bad news. Anyone who has followed since I was first elected to the Board of Supervisors knows that I have been a constant advocate for building up our budget reserves. Sacramento County has consistently been operating with budget reserves significantly smaller than any county of similar size. Specifically, less than 1% of our operating budget. Facing a significant decline in revenues in a pandemic induced economic downturn, we were forced to dip, yet again, into our reserves, leaving only $12.7 million. For perspective, the County’s total adopted budget is $6.41 billion, with $3.08 billion coming from the general fund. That means our reserves are less than one half of 1% of the general fund. With the newly adopted budget precariously balanced on one-time funding and revenue projections looking bleak, I fear for what this means for the budgets to follow as we may begin to look at cutting costs.
It is not all bad news, though, and some parts of the budget merit some praise. We have spent $8 million on economic recovery, and we are continuing to explore how we can continue to provide assistance to businesses. We are continuing to operate our “Dine at Home” program that contracts local restaurants to provide meals to seniors during the pandemic. Also related to COVID-19, we were able to direct $71.1 million to health services and $26.1 million for contact tracing and business navigators to guide businesses on the process of reopening safely. The expenditures related to the pandemic are necessary both to protect health and safety, as well as to get the County back to a position where the State will allow our businesses to reopen. The same is true of the $11.1 million allocated for Project Room Key and other homeless services.
Still with me? I know most of my readers have eagerly been following the ongoing debate around the law enforcement in the County. While many called for reduction or elimination of funding for the Sheriff’s Department, I can honestly say that the communication my office received lean heavily toward providing the Sheriff with a necessary level of funding. As such, I am pleased to report that the adopted budget provides the Sheriff with the level of funding that was requested. Additionally, in a move that I believe most agree is long overdue, we approved $2 million to begin the process of providing body cameras to all sheriffs, starting with patrol deputies as well as special unit deputies, park rangers, and probation. I am glad that we were finally able to provide this tool to law enforcement that promotes transparency and accountability.
I would not say this is the perfect budget. The reality is that the County had already begun reducing spending with the previous year’s budget. While we knew we were heading into lean times, no one knew that we would be dealing with something on the level of a pandemic. Still, we were able to achieve some good. We continue to make sure health services have the resources they need to address COVID-19. We are continuing to explore opportunities to further aid businesses. We expanded the human assistance budget to create new positions necessary for an impending increase in CalWORKS claims. As the problems in the County continue to linger or grow and resources dwindle, I will continue to advocate for a budget that puts funding where it is needed, where it is effective, and whenever possible, builds a stronger reserve, so we are better prepared for economic downturns.