A proposed $43 billion Los Angeles County budget proposal for 2023-24 got early support from the Board of Supervisors, although the initial review only begins a months-long public hearing process leading up to final adoption of a spending plan in October.
County CEO Fesia Davenport presented her budget proposal Tuesday, April 18, to the Board of Supervisors, which took a procedural vote giving preliminary approval to the document. Public hearings on the budget will begin May 10. Supervisor Kathryn Barger said the budget proposal “got several things right.”
“I am pleased it includes ongoing funding for sheriff’s academies to help keep our communities safe,” Barger said in a statement. “Our county must have a functioning pipeline that recruits and trains quality candidates for the sheriff’s department. This has a ripple effect, allowing us to maintain necessary staffing levels for our local sheriff’s stations and jails.”
Barger continued: “I am also encouraged that the Department of Mental Health is allocated more than $60 million in Mental Health Services Act funding and more than 165 positions to expand services — including 32 positions for the Antelope Valley Children and Family Health Clinic. The rural communities I represent need more access to services and will welcome the additional support.”
Supervisor Holly Mitchell said she hopes there will be good attendance at the upcoming public budget meetings. She said the public has to understand that the county “cannot rely on unanticipated revenue.”
In releasing the budget proposal Monday, Davenport warned of an unstable economy and potential future liabilities from child sex assault claims that could range into the billions of dollars, having a significant impact on the county’s finances. The spending plan includes investments in mental health services, homelessness programs and establishment of an Office of Constitutional Policing within the sheriff’s department. It also realizes the goal set by voter passage of Measure J in 2020 — mandating that at least 10% of the county’s locally generated “unrestricted revenues” be dedicated to community service programs and alternatives to incarceration.
Davenport said the budget proposal dedicates $288.3 million to such programs, along with nearly $198 million more that will roll over from the current fiscal year, putting the 2023-34 total at about $486 million. The budget proposal dedicates $692 million toward efforts to combat homelessness. The amount includes more than $60 million for mental health services and 168 positions to provide them; a $100 million pot of money for development and preservation of affordable housing; and $25.5 million for “city-specific programs and services” with a primary goal of moving people out of homeless encampments and into housing, along with supportive services.
Overall, the $43 billion budget proposal represents a $1.6 billion drop from the current year’s budget, but it adds 514 new positions, bringing the overall county budgeted workforce to 114,106. Specific recommendations for the use of those funds are expected to be presented to the Board of Supervisors this spring, and will be added to the final budget document, according to Davenport. The measures are part of the county’s “Care First and Community Investment” effort to overhaul its criminal justice system. The spending proposal includes $6.6 million and the addition of 24 non- sworn positions to establish an Office of Constitutional Policing in the sheriff’s department, to “oversee and monitor consent decrees, deputy gang issues, audit and investigations, compliance, risk management and policy development.” It also includes nearly $50 million in ongoing funding for improved conditions and mental health services in the jails to meet terms of a settlement with federal prosecutors.
“The recommended budget — the first step in the county’s multi-phase budget process — was developed against a backdrop of growing fiscal uncertainty, including a looming state budget deficit, a significant slowdown in local real estate transactions, and an unsettled economic environment in which recession remains a very real possibility,” Davenport wrote in her budget-transmittal letter to the Board of Supervisors. Her message highlighted a series of potentially significant impacts on the county’s budget, most notably potential liabilities from childhood sexual assault claims, which have expanded thanks to a state law extending the statute of limitations for filing of such claims. The county was recently sued by 300 people who claim they were abused as youths by county probation and detention officers while they were detained at juvenile facilities. But Davenport noted the problem extends well beyond that.
“Early information estimates that the county’s financial exposure ranges from $1.6 billion to more than $3 billion from more than 3,000 claims alleging childhood sexual assault at various county and non-county facilities,” Davenport wrote in her letter to the board.
Davenport said that the level of potential liability from lawsuits and damage claims entering a fiscal year is unprecedented. She said that while the exact amount of liability the county might face is unclear, officials are already exploring ways the costs might be covered.
“We have started looking preliminarily at ways how we would address any judgments or settlements,” she said. “… Everything has to be on the table. Whether that means reducing funding for some of our departments, reducing the amount of contracts, looking at other ways to finance the debt, debt financing, even looking at our rainy day fund. … We would try to resolve any liability … in a way that has the least amount of impact to our safety net services as possible.”
Davenport also noted the need for an overhaul of county probation and juvenile facilities, along with possible high costs of conducting seismic retrofits on multiple county facilities. A recent report identified a host of county structures in need of earthquake safety improvements, including the Hall of Administration downtown.
Following the planned initial adoption of the budget by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, public hearings will begin May 10, with final budget deliberations beginning in June. Final budget approval is expected in October.