The public got its first chance on Wednesday, May 10, to weigh in on Los Angeles County’s $43 billion 2023-2024 budget proposal, with some speakers voicing frustration at funding amounts being allocated for incarceration and the probation and sheriff’s departments.
Those who spoke out against the agencies generally asked that the funding be diverted instead to education and recreation programs. Several speakers referenced this week’s overdose death of a detainee at the Barry Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar. One speaker asked that Probation Department officials look at their detainees “as though they were their own children.”
Despite calls from multiple speakers for a reduction in the sheriff’s department budget, Sheriff Robert Luna appeared before the board and asked for additional funds. He asked for money to fund two more captain positions, citing a need for more senior officers to complete a management overhaul of the agency.
“I can’t believe that we have the biggest jail in the nation and it doesn’t even have a management system,” Luna said.
Luna also spoke of 30-year-old computer systems running obsolete software, paper-based bookkeeping and other technological deficiencies at the department. But he said his primary immediate goal at this time is to meet the conditions of various legal settlements and consent decrees that have impacted the department and its jails “in cases dating back to 1975.” The county’s overall $43 billion budget proposal represents a $1.6 billion shrinkage from last year’s spending package.
The Board of Supervisors special meeting Wednesday, May 10, was another step in the drawn-out process of budget compilation, which ends Oct. 3. The largest chunk of the proposal, 33%, is geared toward Health and Public Works Sanitation at $14.1 billion. Public Assistance represents 26%, or $11.1 billion of the budget, followed by Public Protection at 24%, or $10.5 billion, including the Sheriff’s Department; Fire Department; District Attorney; Public Defender; Probation; Justice, Care and Opportunities Department; Office of Diversion and Reentry; Medical Examiner; and Animal Care and Control.
General Government, which is 11% of the total at $5 billion, includes the Assessor, Auditor-Controller, Board of Supervisors, County Counsel, Chief Executive Office, Economic Opportunity, Treasurer-Tax Collector and more. Recreation and Cultural spending is 0.7% of the total budget, or $1 billion. The budget also includes cautionary language about possible further major expenditures in the near future, particularly up to $3 billion in settlements for alleged abuses of youth in county custody in the past. According to county officials, there may be as many as 3,000 such cases.
“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” facilities, CEO Fesia Davenport wrote to the board when she released her proposed budget last month. 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 2023-24 total at about $486 million. 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.
Previous related story: Supervisors get first look at proposed $43 Billion LA County budget
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