LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors revised and then approved a proposed 2015-16 budget totaling nearly $27 billion, though the spending plan is still subject to a series of public hearings before final deliberations begin in June.
Dubbed by various members of the board and staff as a “reform,” “transformational” and “honest, common-sense” budget, the spending plan is expected to add about 1,300 more positions to the county rolls. The overall budget total approved on Tuesday, April 14, is down roughly $200 million from last year.
The focus is on reforming the jails, working to protect children and improving patient access to quality healthcare, said interim CEO Sachi Hamai.
Nearly $100 million is earmarked to address jail reforms, and new hires are budgeted to include 542 social workers and 351 nurses.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell told the board that the budget will “ensure the compassionate and constitutional treatment of those in our jails,” and allow for the expansion of jail mental health units and diversion programs.
“We simply cannot continue to use incarceration as a cure for mental illness,” McDonnell said.
One of challenges facing the Sheriff’s Department is recruiting, given what McDonnell characterized as a rigorous testing and background check process that takes about eight months, on average.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Michael Antonovich called for an additional $13.1 million for training and recruiting, with Solis stressing the need to expand hiring of women and minorities as deputies.
McDonnell also highlighted a plan to build a $10.5 million facility for vehicle training.
“Sadly, the fact remains that vehicle accidents kill more deputies on the job than another other reason,” the sheriff said.
That project hit a stumbling block when Supervisor Sheila Kuehl suggested holding back $9 million of the total until the department could provide more specifics on costs. Solis suggested looking at existing county facilities that might be retrofitted at a lower cost.
Antonovich asked for more funding for mental health and other support services for children in foster care.
“Foster youth suffer from mental health issues at a much higher rate than the community at large,” Antonovich said, adding that intensive home-based services can help children avoid group homes.
Solis asked for $1.5 million in funding for a three-year pilot program to fund the arts in parks, libraries, juvenile halls and other non-arts organizations.
“We’re art-starved in my district,” Solis said, telling her colleagues that most of the county’s arts budget goes to traditional arts programs and doesn’t consider residents who don’t have the luxury of visiting county museums.
Higher revenues driven by an economic upturn have left the county able to expand services. The county welfare caseload has also dropped by 8.7 percent, saving the county $21.4 million.
Solis said as more money becomes available, she’d ultimately like to see a trauma center in the San Gabriel Valley, more affordable housing and the expansion of community anti-crime programs like Parks After Dark.
But there may be more immediate uses for any additional cash.
Hamai said the county needed to come up with a strategic plan to address $26.9 billion in unfunded retiree health benefits. The board asked her department to report back in 30 days with proposals, which will require negotiating with county labor unions.
Other long-term issues include the continuing need for capital improvements, including replacing the outdated Men’s Central Jail, and new technological infrastructure.
Public hearings on the budget will begin May 13.