PICTURED: Ventura County Government Center veteran’s memorial. Photo by Alex Wilson
by Alex Wilson
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $2.7 billion county government budget during a June 20 special meeting.
The spending plan for the 2022-23 fiscal year was a 5.9% increase from the previous year. Priorities include expanding mental health services, help for homeless people and programs aimed at curbing global warming. For comparison, the county budget 10 years ago was $1.72 billion, officials said.
Board Chairperson Carmen Ramirez told the Ventura County Reporter that while the county has faced many challenges related to the pandemic, rising property values helped keep county finances on an even keel.
“The board passed a balanced budget which is fantastic because we’ve been through a lot with inflation and the pandemic,” Ramirez said. “The county is very strong. Property values are up, which is a good thing for property owners. Maybe not so good for renters or people looking to buy but that’s the situation we’re in.”
County figures show property values increased 3.6% last year and 3.91% the previous year, which, thanks to increased property taxes, contributed to the county government’s positive financial outlook.
The budget includes funding for an additional 250 county jobs, which will mean the workforce will top 10,000 for the first time ever, with a total of 10,163 employees. The budget also includes $61 million for design and construction of a Physical and Mental Health Unit at the Todd Road Jail near Santa Paula set to open early next year, officials said.
Ramirez said mental health treatment for inmates is a priority. “Many people who become incarcerated are people suffering from mental illness and it’s not humane and modern anymore to just let people languish. You have to provide for them and hopefully they will get better and get back into society and be productive members of our community.”
Other expenses benefitting public safety efforts included $10.6 million for a new fire station in Ojai and a $14.5 million helicopter that will help with the sheriff’s search and rescue efforts.
Officials said the budget earmarked $5.25 million for climate action which will include collaborations on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improvements to the urban tree canopy. Ramirez called the funding for climate action a “modest investment” and thinks even more could be spent to address the issue.
“We’re one of the fastest-warming counties in the nation and we are an agricultural county,” she explained. “We depend on water. We depend on moderate temperatures to grow our crops and for the health of the people, so we have to take whatever actions we can now, as soon as possible, to address climate change. Not just adapting to it, but trying to do what we can to stop the warming of our planet.”
Another issue the board grappled with was the rising cost of labor. Ramirez said county government is having an increasingly difficult time finding workers, an issue that’s not unique to government agencies.
“We have to make sure our compensation rates are competitive. So that’s a challenge for this county government, every city, every business in our nation, it appears. So we’re working on that and I feel like we’re doing a good job,” she said.
According to county officials, $75 million dollars of American Rescue Plan funding was spent, “aligned with board and community priorities to support an equitable recovery from the pandemic.” That funding included $1.2 million for a transitional housing project in Ojai, $7 million for an East County Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Unit, $2 million for an Oxnard Family Justice Center, $10 million for Saticoy Park improvements and a Nyeland Acres community center and a $4 million wastewater treatment plant project in Piru.
Chief Financial Officer Kaye Mand said the county also maintained healthy reserves.
“This strong fund balance prepares the county for future capital needs, establishes the ability to fund one-time expenses without affecting operations, and shields the county against unplanned events and significant fluctuations in revenue,” Mand said.
Interim County Executive Officer Sevet Johnson said she was happy with the unanimous passage of the spending plan.
“As a result of the pandemic, we’ve seen significant economic and health impacts to many in our community,” she said. “This budget aims to center the needs of communities most affected towards an equitable recovery. At the same time, it sustains critical core services in health, social services and safety and enhances our capacity to support public health and mental health services long term.”
Details on the Ventura County Budget for 2022-23 can be found at news.ventura.org/en/bos-approves-balanced-budget-fy-2022-23/.