Told they should focus on job training and housing in 2018 and beyond, during Tuesday retreat in Pleasant Hill
By Daniel Borsuk
The unveiling of a new citizens organization designed to inject more citizen involvement in the county’s budget development process was torpedoed by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 30.
During a board retreat at the Pleasant Hill Community Center, supervisors informed representatives of the two-month-old Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition that since 82 percent of next year’s proposed $3.4 billion 2018-2019 fiscal budget will come from federal and state funding sources, those funds are mandated for either health services at 55 percent and the sheriff-coroner at 27 percent and there is no room for discussion from the public.
The county’s current fiscal year budget is $3.1 billion.
Supervisors are scheduled to adopt the proposed budget on May 8. They have scheduled a public hearing on the budget on April 17 with the possibility a second hearing on April 24 if one is needed.
Supervisors told coalition representatives that it would essentially be a waste of time to make a pitch about the budget either at the public hearing or by scheduling meetings with supervisors in their district offices.
“We have a lot of restrictions on our money,” said board chairperson Karen Mitchoff of Pleasant Hill. “Go ahead with holding your community meetings about the county budget, but they will be limited.”
“We have very limited money,” District 5 Supervisor Federal Glover said. “Our health and safety funds are mandated by the federal or state government agencies.”
“I am always open to have the public engaged in public policymaking, but we have to face the fact that our budget is mostly funded through mandated categorical sources, “said Supervisor John Gioia of District 1.
“We understand that the budget is already stacked up with required mandated funding, but there is still some flexibility in the process,” Dan Geiger of the Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition and director of Human Services Alliance of Contra Costa told the Contra Costa Herald. “We are asking the board to give us some say.”
“We will likely do what we have initially planned to do and that includes meet individual supervisors in their district offices to discuss budget issues,” Geiger said. “We will also attend the April 17 public hearing.”
Geiger said the objective of the organization, which began with nine non-profit organizations in December and is growing with the potential 48 new organizations, is to open up the county’s budget process.
The new coalition aims to practice its “values-based budgeting principles” that promote safety and affordable housing, stable employment with fair wages, sufficient healthy food, essential health care, access to critical social services, quality early care and education.
Geiger said formation of the Contra Costa Budget Justice coalition occurs at a time there is mounting uncertainty about the future of federal funding coming out of Washington for the upcoming 2018-2019 fiscal year and beyond. Those budget priorities include housing, health care for low income residents, children and youth services, and mental-behavioral health.
Economic Outlook: Housing Shortage and Job Training
The economic focus in Contra Costa County in 2018 and beyond should be on job training and housing county supervisors were told by Christopher Thornberg, Director of the University of California at Riverside Center for Forecasting and Development.
The economist presented his yearly Economic Outlook Focus on the Contra Costa Economy during the board of supervisors’ retreat.
While the nation’s economy experienced “good growth in 2017” at 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter, Thornberg said California, and especially Contra Costa County is facing two economic problems, a shortage of trained workers even though since 2010 there has been a phenomenal number of job openings and a severe housing shortage.
“We are running out of trained workers,” he said. This is due to an increasing number of trained workers retiring. Thornberg suggested as a partial solution to the worsening employment crisis is raising the Social Security retirement age requirement age by two years from 70 to 72.
“In Contra Costa County you have the jobs. There are a lot of job openings. Job training and housing should be your focus,” he said.
Thornberg said it is up to the supervisors to find ways to address the housing crisis with rising housing prices.
“We’re seeing a tighter housing market in Contra Costa County with the median house price at $550,000, “he said.