Top takeaways from Santa Clara County’s new $8.1B budget
Santa Clara County Government Center. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County.

After a week of budget hearings, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to approve the hefty $8.1 billion budget, funding projects that prioritize strengthening existing programs and services as the county prepares for an economic downturn.

The budget from County Executive Jeff Smith, approved by the Board of Supervisors Friday, focused on completing critical initiatives for the next fiscal year beginning July 1. The spending plan touches more than 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, which is considered the fifth largest county in California. The budget supports at least 70 governmental agencies and departments, and includes nearly 22,000 employees.

Apart from the county executive’s recommendations, the spending plan includes proposals from supervisors — one-time payments aimed at improving the quality of life for the county’s most vulnerable residents by supporting nonprofit and community organizations.

“This is an investment in creating a loving and supportive environment for critically ill children and their family members,” Supervisor Cindy Chavez said about her proposal to include $45,000 in funding for a “Pediatric Palliative Care Program” that supports children who are critically ill.

Other proposals included $90,000 for a program intended to house homeless youth, a $5 million investment in the preservation of agricultural land and $75,000 for the YMCA to fund anti-bullying and anti-violence programs in more than 70 schools.

“I’m pleased to see a balanced budget focusing on completing crucial initiatives, strengthening existing services and funding nonprofit programs that benefit our community,” Smith said. “Funding threats are expected from the state and federal governments. And the demand for services is expected to increase as the cost of services is expected to continue growing in the years ahead. Maintaining existing services and prudent spending are expected priorities for the future.”

Here are the biggest takeaways from the newly-approved budget:

Growing the county workforce: Staffing increases have significantly grown countywide with the addition of 205 new full time and exempt positions. These include positions added throughout the last year, adding up to a whopping 21,080 jobs. The county workforce alone will include more than 1,800 new positions.

Health is a leading priority: Investments in health care remains a top priority, following the county’s decision to acquire O’Connor Hospital, Saint Louise Regional Hospital and the DePaul Health Center — a $235 million acquisition. The county has set aside almost $20 million to prepare for the costs and debts of that integration process. Additionally, the county has included funds to prepare for a cut in federal funding to vital healthcare programs such as Medicaid. The Valley Medical Center is also getting a $2.1 million renovation, with an expanded emergency room and updated facilities.

A win for the Vietnamese community: The county has also invested $37 million toward the construction of a Vietnamese American service center, intended to provide critical health and social services to a community often facing barriers to these services.

A new jail on the horizon: The construction of a new central jail is also on the list. The new jail, located at 885 North San Pedro Street, replaces an outdated facility and will include inmate programs in education, substance abuse, job placement and life skills to help inmates overcome personal challenges. The programs will be designed to “address an increased need” for mental health, according to the county website.

The county is also allocating a total of $13 million in funds toward jail reform, following two lawsuits in 2018 alleging that inmates were kept in inhumane conditions and the jails lacked medical and mental health services.

Investment in a new voting system: County supervisors voted to allocate a massive $7 million in funding for election changes to the 2020 voting process — spurred by the Voter’s Choice Act. The county is expected to move from its current voting system to one where precinct polling places are replaced with 125 “vote centers” that would be open for up to 11 days before Election Day.

A focus on mental health: Plans for a new juvenile and adult psychiatric inpatient center are underway. The county is investing $1 million to build the new center, helping to reduce the number of minors admitted to hospitals outside of the county, and will include a comprehensive continuum of care with emergency and urgent psychiatric services.

The county provides mental health services such as mobile crisis teams, crisis residential facilities, crisis stabilization units and the Mental Health Urgent Care Center, but has worked to expand its mental health services following Board President Joe Simitian’s call for better health care during the State of the County address in February. The budget will include staffing increases to support the need for more psychiatrists, therapists and health care professionals within the county’s system.

County supervisors also established a “General Fund Contingency Reserve” at more than $1.6 million and approved the $6.6 million Inventory of Budget Proposals — where supervisors submit grant requests to fund projects for nonprofits and community organizations.

“We’re fortunate to be living in relatively prosperous times, but there are still so many folks who need our help,” Simitian said. “Even in good times, there’s always more we wish we could do; so our budget becomes more than just an accounting document, it’s the place where we identify our priorities, make hard choices and express our values.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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