The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is cutting hundreds of vacant positions to close a looming deficit—paving the way for the passage of a $11.3 billion budget for 2023-24.

Supervisors addressed the $120 million deficit last Thursday by not only cutting 600 positions, but also shifting more money into county reserves, totaling $218.6 million, and delaying completion of several county facility improvement and demolition projects. The bulk of the approved budget focuses on funding resources to expand access for behavioral health services, housing and public safety, as well as more support for children and families.

In another fiscally conservative move, leaders placed a variety of projects on hold, including the demolition of the former animal shelter, which was replaced by a new facility in 2021.

Supervisor Joe Simitian said despite difficult discussions among county leaders, he believes the finalized budget will still continue providing critical resources.

“I thought it was a budget that allowed us to keep doing the good work we’ve been doing,” Simitian told San José Spotlight. “But (it) did not provide a lot of opportunity for growth or new programs and services.”

The cuts come as members from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521, which is comprised of janitors, health care workers, social workers and more, have expressed concerns over mounting staff shortages and feeling overburdened. Union members voted last week to authorize their bargaining team to call for a strike as they work with the county to finalize a new contract before the current one expires on June 25.

Riko Mendez, chief elected officer with the local union, said cutting the jobs was misguided because they provide services to vulnerable parts of the population, including patients in hospitals across the county.

“Seeing them cut 600 positions at this critical time seems very shortsighted and unnecessary,” Mendez told San José Spotlight.

But Supervisor Otto Lee said the inability to fill the remaining vacant positions even after the cuts will still be a huge challenge.

“We balanced the budget on paper, but still have to fix our chronic understaffing,” Lee said. “We must fill these critical positions (as soon as possible).”

Looking ahead to the 2024-25 budget cycle, County Executive Jeff Smith said he’s concerned the projected revenue the county hopes to receive might end up being less than projected expenditures that it will then have to make over the next year or so. The deficit is expected to increase to $158 million by next fiscal year.

“I am concerned because this is clearly a transition year,” Smith told San José Spotlight. “The economy is having problems… there’ll be more need for county services.”

Smith is set to retire on July 1 after serving as county executive for more than 14 years. He will be replaced by James Williams, the county’s attorney.

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