Sacramento County supervisors to spend extra revenue

By Brad Branan
By Brad Branan The Sacramento Bee
Last modified: 2014-03-26T02:12:16Z
Published: Tuesday, Mar. 25, 2014 - 11:24 pm

Sacramento County supervisors decided Tuesday to use an unexpected revenue increase to help pay for unanticipated costs, including higher bills for inmate health care, child protection and juvenile justice.

The county’s midyear budget review found $4 million more in discretionary revenue than when supervisors approved the county budget in September, the result of higher property tax and vehicle license fee revenue. The county expects a 2 percent increase in discretionary revenue, the second year in a row such income will have gone up. 

But unexpected costs will consume the additional money, as well as some reserves, supervisors learned as they reviewed the $2.1 billion budget for the fiscal year ending June 30.  

One of the new costs – $2.8 million for inmate medical costs – generated frustration among supervisors because county staff attributed it to realignment, a 2011 law that gave counties responsibility for inmates once housed in state prisons. The new inmates are serving longer sentences than county inmates did before, leading to higher medical costs, staff said. 

The cost increase brought the annual budget for Correctional Health Services to $38 million. “That really does have me bothered – there are so many better uses for this money,” Supervisor Phil Serna said. “I can’t help but think that the state intentionally left the health care costs out of this and all I can see is our costs going up and up,” added Supervisor Don Nottoli. 

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said health care costs were considered as part of the funding formula created in the 2011 realignment law, although the formula was not expected to cover them fully. 

Probation costs are also rising due to a change in federal policy, county staff said. According to a letter to county and state officials last year from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, young people in the juvenile justice system have wrongly been assumed to be “foster care candidates” and eligible for certain federal funding. Counties should not make that assumption, according to the letter. 

The new interpretation means the county will lose $8.5 million in juvenile justice funding this year, officials said. With savings in other areas, Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale said his department has been able to cut its overall deficit down to a little more than $2 million. 

Chief Financial Officer Britt Ferguson said supervisors closed that gap Tuesday. But the loss in federal funding will resurface soon. 

“This probably represents the biggest challenge for us in next year’s budget,” County Executive Brad Hudson said. 

Like with the Probation Department, Child Protective Services has experienced deep cuts in recent years. The long-troubled agency responded to the cuts by moving social workers from a foster care unit to front-line emergency response positions, a strategy that seemed to work because the county was experiencing a decline in foster care placements, according to county staff. 

But foster care placements have gone back up, and the county has struggled to provide family court officials with timely reports on the welfare of children. That has resulted in some foster children staying in the system longer than may be necessary. As a result, CPS asked and received approval Tuesday to hire 16 employees at cost of $416,000 this fiscal year and $1.6 million next year.