San Diego County has filed a lawsuit to keep the State of the California from withholding aid payments to foster families and the poorest San Diegans, a move announced by Chairwoman Dianne Jacob in her State of the County address this month.
The lawsuit—which calls on the State Controller to release previously appropriated dollars—is one of several ways county government plans to cope with what Jacob called a “financial triple whammy” baring down on the county.
Stock market losses and a decline in local revenues like property and sales taxes are adding to the county’s financial challenges, Jacob said.
“Let me be clear, what lies ahead is treacherous,” Jacob said during a 30-minute address at the Communication Arts Center at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon. “The good news is county government is in a far better position than most to navigate rough waters.”
Jacob said the county would use fiscal discipline, technology and innovation to continue to provide as many services as possible.
She warned that current pension benefits for employees are not sustainable and cautioned that the county must consider returning to a two-tiered system, calling on employees to shoulder more of their contributions to the retirement fund and increasing the retirement age, among other options.
“I believe our employees and our labor unions understand the gravity of our economic situation,” she said. “A government that cannot stay afloat helps no one. There are really only two choices here: pick up an oar and row, or watch as we take on water.”
Jacob said health and human services programs would be the hardest hit by state budget cuts and said she would ask her colleagues to consider outsourcing certain programs.
“We already know that, in some situations, the private and nonprofit sectors can perform services cheaper than government without compromising quality. This may be the only way to keep some programs alive.”
Jacob cautioned that County government will change dramatically in the year ahead, Jacob cautioned, saying, “we will be a smaller government providing fewer services.”
In addition to addressing budget problems, Jacob said the county would step up water conservation efforts and promote the use of solar energy.
She called on local governments to join the county to mandate water-wise and fire-wise landscaping on all new development.
Among other measures, she said the county was seeking state legislation to require utilities to buy back residential surplus solar energy at a fair market price. Currently, if solar customers generate more solar energy than they use, any surplus goes to San Diego Gas and Electric, not the homeowner.
Jacob praised District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and Sheriff Bill Kolender for keeping the region’s crime rate low. She said she was working with regional gang experts to partner with the faith-based community and community service organizations to reach the children of gang members during gang sweeps and operations.
She also said she would continue to work with regional firefighting experts to ensure that the region is the best prepared that it can be for wildfire. Despite the tight budget conditions, Jacob said she would ask her colleague to fund a sweeping review of the region’s fire and emergency services network.
“This will tell us what’s working and what needs to change,” she said. “Some believe we can’t fix the $450 million system without a new tax. I say we should realize efficiencies first, particularly when it comes to dispatch and training,” she said.
The morning after her address, Jacob and three board colleagues flew to Sacramento to pressure state legislators into preserving direct aid benefits to foster families and poor San Diego families, including more than 63,000 children.
The text of Jacob’s 2009 State of the County Address is at www.diannejacob.com. Click on “Press Box.” The address may be watched at www.sdcounty.ca.gov.