[San Joaquin County] County ready to take $1.8B budget to supervisors

Blog note: this article references a recent grand jury report.

STOCKTON — The tidy sum of $1.8 billion sounds like a lot of money, but billions don’t go nearly as far as they once did.

Just ask San Joaquin County officials, who will bring the proposed 2019-20 fiscal-year budget of just more than $1.8 billion before the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The proposed budget is more than $40.8 million larger than the 2018-19 fiscal-year budget, which expires June 30. But easy come, easy go.

Three sectors in the proposed budget eat up $1.57 billion, 87.1 percent of the $1.8 billion total. The three are health services ($747.6 million, 41.5 percent), human services ($443.7 million, 24.5 percent) and law and justice ($379.8 million, 21.1 percent),

At the other end of the spectrum is parks and recreation, which accounts for $6.4 million, or four-tenths of 1 percent.

Following are some of the highlights from the budget proposal:

Cold cases

The San Joaquin County Civil grand jury reported at the beginning of this month that law-enforcement agencies have too many unsolved investigations — more than 500 cold case homicides.

The budget proposes to give the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office some new help. The Sheriff’s Office would add two deputies focusing on cold cases, and the D.A. would get a deputy district attorney who would focus on unsolved investigations.

County Administrator Monica Nino said the planning for the new positions predated the recent release of the grand jury report.

“This was responsive to the sheriff and district attorney submitting requests,” Nino said.

By the numbers

According to the county: Health insurance rates increased 16 percent in 2018-19 and are projected to increase by an additional 22.8 percent in 2019-20. … Staffing costs of $918.5 million will eat up more than half the new budget. … The year-end budget for 2018-19 will finish with an estimated balance of $30.5 million. … The county has 656 vacant positions, including 108 in the Sheriff’s Office, 107 in human services, 99 in behavioral health and 91 at San Joaquin General Hospital.

A looming issue

At the moment, 86 percent of the county’s workforce has labor agreements. But that will drop to 12.5 percent in September when contracts expire with employees represented by the Service Employees International Union.

Contract negotiations have begun, but Nino and Assistant County Administrator Jerry Becker would not comment on how they are progressing.

Here’s something to consider: If every employee in the county, not just SEIU employees, was given a 1 percent raise, it would cost the county $6 million.

Asked if the pending SEIU situation is concerning, Nino said, “Very much so.”

San Joaquin General Hospital

The hospital eats up more than $400 million all by itself. So county officials say they are working to improve their billing and collecting practices to maximize revenues. They also say that when there is an inevitable economic downturn, the hospital will have to suffer a portion of the cuts.

“We would have to evaluate the types of services we’re offering that aren’t mandated,” Nino said. “When incurring the expenses the hospital does, it’s so critical to have timely billing and receiving of revenue.”

According to Nino, 750,000-resident San Joaquin County is the smallest county in the state operating its own hospital.

“Structurally balanced”

Nino said the proposed budget is “structurally balanced,” meaning that excess funds are not being used for ongoing expenses but rather for one-time costs or for padding reserves.

“It’s so critical to local governments right now,” she said.

The Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday begins at 9 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 44 N. San Joaquin St. in downtown Stockton. The budget is part of a sizable list of items on the agenda.

Supervisors are expected to cast their final votes to approve the budget on June 25.

June 9, 2019

Stockton Record

By Roger Phillips

 

County: