Orange County Board Approves Annual Budget

Orange County Board Approves Annual Budget

The Orange County Board of Supervisors in Santa Ana, Calif., on Aug. 10, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

City News Service
City News Service

6/26/2024

Updated: 6/26/2024

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SANTA ANA, Calif.—Orange County supervisors June 25 approved the proposed $9.5 billion budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year, a slight increase from the current year’s $9.3 billion spending plan.
The general fund budget, the more flexible part of the spending plan, is $4.8 billion, down from last year’s $4.9 billion. The rest of the money in the budget is generally restricted by law, giving county officials little ability to change its use.
Orange County CEO Frank Kim told the supervisors June 11 it was likely there would be minimal adjustments based on the state’s budget, which affects how much revenue the county receives.
“We’ve done our best to anticipate what those impacts are,” Mr. Kim said. “It’s likely we'll come back to make some minor adjustments.” Those adjustments would be made in September or January, which is routine.
Supervisor Andrew Do at the June 11 meeting moved to have OC Human Relations Commission employees switched over to county staff, with no change to the budget or services provided.
Supervisor Vince Sarmiento, who signaled support for that two weeks ago, said Tuesday he changed his mind and requested an ad hoc committee be formed to consider the move.
“In hindsight, after speaking with my commissioner, I have some concerns,” Mr. Sarmiento said. “I’m not sure which department it goes to, who staffs it and what’s the purpose for the change... I thought this was more of a benign change.”
Board Chairman Don Wagner asked staff at the June 11 meeting to look into establishing a program to help with large animal evacuations during wildfires. Mr. Wagner said the cost now “falls on private citizens.” He added that other counties such as San Diego and Riverside have established large animal rescue programs.
The 2 percent increase in the overall budget—or $182 million—is owed mostly to increasing costs for staff and infrastructure improvements, most notably at John Wayne Airport. Under the proposal, the county would eliminate 322 jobs, which are already vacant. No layoffs are anticipated.
Revenue for general purpose funding is pegged at about $1.1 billion, an $89.6 million increase over last fiscal year, mostly due to a projected $60.8 million boost in property taxes.
Funding for law enforcement, which comes from the half-cent sales tax designated in the 1993 ballot measure Proposition 172, is projected to be $438.6 million, with 80 percent going to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and 20 percent to the District Attorney’s Office. It nets out to a 3.7 percent increase over the current fiscal-year budget, which is about on pace with the rate of inflation.
Mr. Kim said the county consults with economists from Cal State Fullerton and Chapman University, and there is optimism a recession will be avoided.
“The economists we speak to don’t see a recession in this coming year,” Mr. Kim said. “They don’t see revenue growth, but they don’t see a recession.”
A major focus of this year’s budget is on programs to help people leaving jail get back on their feet, because officials believe it will save money in the long run, Mr. Kim said. He noted that the new Be Well Irvine behavioral health campus planned on county property will offer help for those with substance abuse problems.
The proposed spending plan also focuses on infrastructure projects like a planned razing of the old Orange County district attorney’s offices and replacing them with various offices for other county agencies.
The proposed county budget also reflects a focus on providing money for new green technologies and environmentally sustainable projects.
The supervisors also paid tribute to Mr. Kim, who is retiring July 11. The supervisors met Tuesday afternoon in a private meeting to discuss Mr. Kim’s successor. If the supervisors cannot settle on a replacement by Mr. Kim’s last day it is anticipated an interim CEO will do the job until a permanent candidate is hired.
Mr. Wagner noted Mr. Kim’s knack for solid advice.
“To the extent I didn’t mess up it was because of your guidance and to the extent I did mess up it was because I didn’t listen to your guidance,” Mr. Wagner said.
Hiring Mr. Kim’s replacement has been tough, Mr. Wagner said.
“The truth of the matter is it’s hard because the shoes to fill are so enormous,” Mr. Wagner said.
Supervisor Doug Chaffee noted Mr. Kim’s accessibility even when he was on vacation. He said he hoped Mr. Kim finds more time for activities he enjoys such as scuba diving “because underwater you can’t take phone calls.”
Mr. Chaffee agreed that hiring Mr. Kim’s replacement will be difficult and “may take awhile.”
Mr. Sarmiento said finding a replacement for Mr. Kim has been difficult because of the CEO’s “intangibles.”
“There’s a quality you have that’s really hard to find, which is a good bedside manner,” Mr. Sarmiento said.
Supervisor Katrina Foley recalled first meeting Mr. Kim when she was the mayor of Costa Mesa as the county was embroiled in the litigation regarding homeless encampments.
“Your leadership and collaboration with the city manager and others has really helped us build an envious system of care here in Orange County,” Ms. Foley said. “We’re addressing homelessness better than most communities and it’s in large part due to your willingness to make changes.”
Ms. Foley also noted how Mr. Kim steered the county through a major redevelopment of its facilities in downtown Santa Ana such as the new county hall.
“Another thing people take for granted is the civic center—this building we’re in right now is and of itself something a CEO would do once in a lifetime,” Ms. Foley said.
“You’ve left the county in a really great place, better than it was when you got the position nine years ago,” Ms. Foley said. “I hope now you take the time for yourself, your wife, your mom, your friends and really enjoy the time you’ve earned in retirement.”
Mr. Kim said it was “really hard to sum up a 29-year career. I didn’t think it would last this long.”
Mr. Kim added, “I’ve truly led an extraordinary life and it was a privilege to serve the people of Orange County and accomplishing many of the projects we did. It really does bring a tear to my eye and I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made here. Thank you. That’s all I can say. I’m deeply humbled by your well wishes.”
Mr. Kim was the chief financial officer before being promoted to CEO and helped steer the county through the Great Recession as well.
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