February 14, 2010 (San Diego) – “Now is not the time to run scared. It’s the time to run smart,” Pam Slater-Price, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors said in state-of-the-County speech delivered Thursday at Qualcomm Hall.
View text and watch full speech at: http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/Portal/News/2010/Feb/021110SOC2010.html.
She opened with a summation of financial challenges faced by the County in 2009. Amid a national economic recession, the County lost nearly 45,000 jobs and 146,000 county residents remain out of work. Sales tax revenues fell sharply and the County lowered assessment values on over 215,000 properties, resulting in a steep drop in property taxes as well.
In addition, cuts in state funds, coupled with unfunded mandates for programs the County is required to provide, have exacerbated budget problems. “They are draining the taxpayers—and our state—dry,” Slater-Price said.
She praised partnerships with the private sector for saving over $390 million last year. The County’s work force has shrunk by 1,500 positions in the past five years. The County has drawn criticism from labor groups, however, for lay-offs and outsourcing jobs to private companies that pay lower wages to workers.
The County received 80 national or statewide awards in 2009 for innovations. One employee’s suggestion of paying poll workers $5 to use their own cell phones on election night instead of buying new phones saved taxpayers $120,000.
“We will balance our budget and manage smart in tough times,” said Slater-Price, who added that Supervisors will have to cut expenses further in 2010, but was not specific on what programs, jobs or expenses might be on the chopping block.
The County will forge ahead with construction on long-planned public buildings where money has been set aside. “This is one way to put people to work,” Slater-Price noted.
She also emphasized importance of supporting arts and tourism-related programs, noting that 1.6 million tourists annually spend an average of $246 per day in San Diego County, generating $394 million a year for the local economy.
Starting this year, the County aims to launch a program emphasizing good diet, exercise, and not smoking—three factors that cause over 50% of all deaths in San Diego County and contribute to significant healthcare costs for cardiovascular and respiratory illness, cancer, and diabetes. An education campaign to reduce teen drinking and driving will also be implemented, along with a program to combat Oxycontine drug abuse; the County Medical Examiner has found that 51 people died from musing that drug in 2008, triple the prior year.
Highlights of interest for East County:
- A Fire Deployment Study requested by Supervisor Dianne Jacob will be completed next month. The assessment of fire services countywide will facilitate regional planning, Slater-Price observed.
- Jacob and Slater-Price have introduced a public/private partnership to make solar panels affordable. “The program can help you lower the cost of your utility bill and helps us all reduce reliance on fossil fuel generation,” Slater-Price said. Up-front financing is available, with the cost spread out over 20 years, payable through property tax bills. Homeowners and businesses can sign up starting in June for the program. Additionally, the federal government may soon offer a 30% tax credit for solar. A similar program in Sonoma County resulted in 2,500 solar panel installations now providing 4% of the region’s power demand.
- East County and North County open space plans are scheduled for a vote this year under the County’s Multiple Species Conservation Program, which aims to provide green buffer areas. The proposal would increase protected acreage to over 1,500 square miles (larger than the state of Rhode Island and five times the size of the City of San Diego), including an extensive system of public trails. Slater-Price also supports Supervisor Bill Horn’s plan to preserve the 22,000 acre Rancho Guejito, the last unspoiled Mexican land grant in northeast San Diego County.
- A Neighborhood Reinvestment Grant program is available online for nonprofits such as Little League, Kiwanis, arts organizations and business promotion groups to apply for funds and see how funding is spent.
Slater-Price did not address what if anything the County plans to do to help people falling through the safety net with regard to healthcare and other social services, many of which have already seen major cuts in an era when poverty, hunger and homeless are up dramatically in our region.
She noted some bright spots over the past year. The County opened the new Edgmoor hospital for the indigent and elderly. The crime rate, which customarily increases during tough economic times, actually fell to the lowest point in 25 years locally. Supervisors worked to expand the San Dieguito River Park, which runs 55 miles from Volcan Mountain in Julian to the beach at Del Mar.
Despite economic challenges, Slater-Price expressed optimism. “There are many good things on the horizon,” she concluded. “We face difficulties. But beyond the storm, the sun shines bright.”