Santa Clara County stops budget bleed, not future woes
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved a $12.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2024-25. File photo.

Santa Clara County leaders have managed to approve a $12.5 billion budget that closes a massive deficit. But their problems will only mount in the coming year.

The budget — which the Board of Supervisors approved unanimously earlier this month — cuts a total of 222 vacant and filled county jobs and reduces public health programs like childhood lead prevention efforts, certain public health laboratory services and support training for teen parents. Job cuts also hit the district attorney and public defender’s office, though the county walked back the removal of 18 criminal investigators and three public defender posts after both departments’ leaders publicly objected.

“I actually think one of the departments hit hardest was public health,” County Executive James Williams told San José Spotlight.

The county’s public health department faces $17 million in federal grant funding losses and $12 million in California grant losses under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s state budget proposal, Williams said.

“That’s huge. That is something that is very concerning to us,” Williams said. “The general fund isn’t in any position to deal with that.”

The general fund is already being asked to help prop up the county’s largest expense: The public hospital system, which takes up half the county’s budget with $6 billion in spending, of which more than $1.26 billion is expected to come out of the general fund. An audit of the budget says the general fund is now spending savings from prior years to keep the hospital system afloat.

The problems are compounding right on time for a major crisis coming in August: The closure of life-saving services at the privately owned Regional Medical Center in East San Jose. This will deluge the county’s already strained hospitals with new patients and life-threatening ambulance delays.

The county also could lose $36 million annually to charter schools if Newsom’s proposed changes to local public education funding — impacting five Bay Area counties — are approved with the state budget.

“Given the magnitude of the county’s structural deficit, we had to ask pretty much every department to step up and make proposals with impacts across the entire organization,” Williams told San José Spotlight. “I think the more significant story is where we were able to continue to make significant investments.”

The county is starkly expanding its investments in the health system, housing and child and family services — committing millions of dollars to farmworker homes, expanded plans for a South County Child Advocacy Center and seismic improvements to county hospitals and medical facilities. The county is also making its Office of Supportive Housing a standalone department to support new permanent projects and rapid rehousing.

And after outcry over the proposed removal of multilingual county elections staff at the Registrar of Voters, supervisors voted to maintain ballot translation services in Hindi, Khmer, Korean and Japanese.

Child and family services continue to see their budgets increase at a higher rate than criminal justice and law enforcement departments typically associated with public safety. Collectively, departments serving children, seniors and families are seeing a $65 million increase in funding to $1.27 billion from $1.21 billion last fiscal year. By comparison, the sheriff’s office is seeing a $51 million total increase from the last fiscal year.

The county’s initial proposal in May to cut district attorney spending by $2.4 million this year was partially walked back with the restoration of 18 criminal investigator positions at the department.

“We are pleased that our work with the county officials averted layoffs,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen told San José Spotlight. “We have challenges ahead, but we are confident that we can continue to keep Santa Clara County safe.”

Board of Supervisors President Susan Ellenberg calls it a continuation of a yearslong trend, which she described in this year’s state of the county as a vision for public safety that’s not “predicated on punishment.”

“We achieve safe communities in a very broad range of ways that are not limited to the criminal justice system,” Ellenberg told San José Spotlight.

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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