Orange County’s 2022-23 budget would devote tens of millions of dollars to mental health services and housing for people on the streets, creating a new center to help prepare incarcerated youth to return to the community, and funding a promised stake of nearly $20 million for a veterans cemetery.
The $8.8 billion proposed budget is $1 billion more than the current fiscal year’s spending and would add several hundred workers to the county payroll; county officials say the growth is largely due to pandemic-related needs and the restoration of jobs that were eliminated to cut costs in 2020.
As in past years, the two biggest spending areas are $3.37 billion on community services (including animal care, services for children and older adults, parks and libraries, and the OC Health Care Agency) and $1.8 billion on public protection (which includes the Sheriff’s and Probation departments, Public Defender’s and District Attorney’s offices and the Office of Independent Review ).
Because many of the county’s functions are mandated, such as administering state food and health care benefits for those in need, a lot of funding is specifically dedicated for those services and can’t be spent on other things. County supervisors have discretion over about $975 million of the budget.
The proposed budget would put $27 million toward incentives to persuade landlords to accept tenants with housing vouchers; fund the county’s second Be Well facility , which would expand public access to mental health and addiction services; create a “youth transition center” at the juvenile hall campus to offer programs and assistance to help young people prepare to return to the community; and set aside $19.5 million to help build a planned state-run veterans cemetery .
The budget proposal would restore more than 100 positions to the Sheriff’s Department, 58 jobs in the Public Defender’s office and 19 positions in the Assessor’s Office; and it would create a handful of new jobs in the Auditor-Controller, District Attorney and Public Works departments, among others.
In a series of straw votes Tuesday (the official vote to approve the budget will happen at the board’s June 28 meeting), supervisors said yes to additional requests including six new positions in the county’s Office on Aging; 10 more positions to respond to child welfare emergency cases; and 47 added positions to coordinate services and outreach with a street medicine team CalOptima plans to launch.
Still, one resident who spoke at a the hearing on the budget criticized the board for devoting the largest chunk of the discretionary dollars to law enforcement. Another called out what he described as “the neglect and the failing of this board” in helping the county’s homeless; he noted that 41 unhoused people died on the county’s streets last month.
Supervisors have said housing is a top priority, but on Tuesday they shut down District 2 Supervisor Katrina Foley’s proposal to budget $5 million in federal aid dollars for a program to offer help to first-time homebuyers, first responders and county employees. Her proposal, which she had hoped county staff could flesh out and bring back to the board, would offer interest-free loans of up to $100,000 to those eligible.
Foley said the county and some cities have struggled to recruit workers, and sometimes they hire and train staff only to see them leave because it’s too expensive for them to live in Orange County.
District 5 Supervisor Lisa Bartlett and District 3 Supervisor Don Wagner said they would need more information about what the program would look like before they’d consider it, but none of the supervisors would second Foley’s request to ask staff to do the analysis.
“This is clearly premature and there’s plenty of opportunity to get it done and done right” in the future, Wagner said.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposed 2022-23 budget on June 28 in the board hearing room at 333 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana. The meetings also are streamed live at ocgov.com.