By Daniel Borsuk
Even with warning smoke signals rising over Washington and Sacramento that funding allotments might shrink, Contra Costa County Supervisors forged ahead and passed a $1.56 billion 2017-2018 budget loaded with spending priorities.
Except on two expense items, supervisors unanimously approved the new spending plan Tuesday, a 6.1% increase from the current fiscal year’s budget of $1.47 billion.
“We’ve been pretty conservative in developing this budget based on what’s been going on in Washington,” observed Supervisor Karen Andersen of Danville.
“We’re at a time of making tough budget decisions,” echoed board chair Federal Glover of Pittsburg, “We have to be careful. We don’t have the resources like we used to have.”
Even then supervisors forged ahead and approved a budget that will tap into rising revenues coming in from a robust local economy where the county unemployment rate is hovering around 4% and a strong real estate market has helped boost county assessed property value revenues swell 26.5% since 2012. The county assessor projects 2017-2018 fiscal year assessed value revenues will rise 5% to $201,288,700. That is an increase from $191,703,525 in 2016-2017.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff voted against the board’s proposal to spend $250,000 for the Contra Costa Cares program. Other supervisors approved the allocation confident the nonprofit health organization will round up its matching $250,000 to provide medical services to undocumented immigrants especially in west Contra Costa.
Mitchoff did not think Contra Costa Cares will come through with its share of money. “It’s my concern the matching share will not materialize and for that reason I do not think the county should put its money into the Contra Costa Cares program,” Mitchoff told The Contra Costa Herald.
The Pleasant Hill supervisor also the voted against a proposal to spend $220,000 to help the financially struggling East Contra Costa County Fire Protection District reopen the shuttered Knightsen fire station with equal contributions from the first district and the cities of Brentwood and Oakley.
“I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” Mitchoff said about the Knightsen fire station debacle
On a 4 to 0 vote supervisors agreed to hire three deputy public defenders to help reduce the rising number of felony cases attorneys now handle. Currently each department felony public defender attorney handles 25 to 40 clients at a time.
Supervisor Anderson abstained from voting on the public defender item due to a potential conflict of interest with her husband’s work with the Bar Association.
Supervisors learned since April 18 two new capital cases were filed in the Public Defender’s Office that will increase work load.
Elsewhere, the new budget permits the Sherriff-Coroner Department to make 13 hires. The Public Works Department will hire 20 full-time workers.
The Contra Costa County Fire Protection District plans to hire a Departmental Community and Media Relations Coordinator, a storekeeper, three fire dispatchers, and one assistant fire chief.
Searching for More Rental Revenue
In other action, the board referred to the Finance Committee a request from Supervisor John Gioia of El Cerrito a proposal to generate increased revenue from the rental of hotels located unincorporated areas by advertising those rentals on electronic hosting platforms like Airbnb.
The county generates $2 million to $2.5 million a year from a 10 percent transient occupancy tax that is assessed at four hotels located in unincorporated areas.
Those four hotels are the Burlington Hotel in Port Costa, The Renaissance Club Sport Hotel in unincorporated Walnut Creek, the Crowne Plaza in unincorporated Concord, and the Embassy Suites in unincorporated Walnut Creek.
Supervisors also voted 5-0 to authorize the county Conservation and Development Department to sign a disposition and development agreement with the Community Housing Development Corporation of North Richmond for the sale of six parcels of property in North Richmond. The property is the planned site of a $26.4 million 42-unit low and moderate income housing project site. The development will include about 900 square feet of commercial/retail space.