Almost three months later than the annual county budget is usually adopted, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors approved a $3.6 billion 2020-21 budget that county officials say will likely require yet more adjustments, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the pressure those added expenses are putting on the county’s finances.
“It’s been a very difficult year on many fronts,” County Administrator David Twa said Tuesday. “We’re still in very uncertain times, including the ongoing effects of COVID.”
Adding to the cash flow problem, he said, is a significant portion of late county property tax payments related to COVID-19. The county in late March canceled penalties and interest on delinquent payments.
While $131 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act money has been spent so far on costs to run the county’s hospital, clinics and health plan, that money won’t last forever, Twa said.
The county’s budget situation has prompted the supervisors to support a half-cent countywide sales tax measure on the Nov. 3 general election ballot. Measure X would raise an estimated $81 million each year for 20 years to fund county hospital operations and community health centers, fire and other emergency responses and various social safety-net services.
And significant COVID-19-related expenses are likely to continue for anywhere from 12 to 24 months, Twa said.
As has been the case at each of the previous budget hearings, several callers to the Zoom meeting Tuesday implored the supervisors not to spend any federal CARES money on the Sheriff’s Office — specifically on 24 new deputies — and instead called for spending that money on education, social services including housing programs, and health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similarly, a number of callers called on the county to close Juvenile Hall in Martinez and keep the Orin Allen Youth Rehabilitation Facility, also known as the Byron Boys Ranch, open. Both the Byron and Martinez facilities are budgeted for this fiscal year, however.
But the newly approved budget could be changed before the end of the year regarding a possible closure of the sheriff’s Marsh Creek Detention Facility near Clayton, which currently isn’t housing any inmates. The matter is expected to come to the supervisors in October, Twa said.
Supervisor John Gioia said Tuesday he still has a few budget questions, including whether the Martinez jail needs 24 deputies to render the mental health-related services Sheriff David Livingston wants. But though he voted “no” on the budget on Aug. 4, he changed his vote Tuesday to make the approval unanimous, with assurances discussions on the other matters will continue.
“I support the budget as a whole,” Gioia said.