Orange County released its proposed budget on May 19 for the 2021–22 fiscal year as it looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What was initially presented to us is a solid budget, one that we can work with without having to worry about substantial cuts,” Supervisor Don Wagner told The Epoch Times.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to continue providing the services that the people in Orange County deserve and have come to expect.”
The county’s base budget totals $7.7 billion, including $4.1 billion in general funds. It’s a slight increase from last fiscal year’s $7.5 billion budget.
Orange County’s finances will be bolstered by more than $1 billion in federal funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which Wagner said would “help us through what I hope are the end stages of COVID.”
The county is expected to receive an additional $308 million in fiscal year 2020–21 and $308 million in fiscal year 2021–22 through the ARPA. Each city in Orange County will also receive additional funding directly.
The ARPA is a $130.2 billion federal funding bill to mitigate the effects stemming from the CCP virus pandemic. The funding eligibility runs through Dec. 31, 2024.
The ARPA funds will go toward projects such as remodeling public lobbies and work areas to ensure safety and compliance with social distancing measures. The county will also invest in technology that allows the public to access essential county services remotely.
Specific guidance on eligible uses of ARPA funds is still under development.
“The board of supervisors and the County of Orange continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and are grateful for the federal and state resources,” Orange County Chief Executive Frank Kim said in a press release.
“We’ve responded effectively and proactively to our citizen’s needs and we did so with a balanced budget.”
The budgeted general purpose revenues, which almost exclusively come from taxes, total $926.6 million—$36.5 million more than the 2020–21 fiscal year’s adopted budget of $890.1 million.
This increase is primarily due to a $48.5 million projected increase in property tax revenues, offset by projected decreases of $5.4 million each in use of reserve and transfers in.
The revenue assumptions reflect moderate levels of growth, including a 3.5 percent growth in general fund net property tax revenues during the current year-end revenue estimate.
During the 2020–21 fiscal year, the county utilized federal CARES funding for community services, including free COVID-19 testing sites, personal protective equipment, meals, and shelter for vulnerable populations, allocations to cities, hospitals, and clinics, and grants for small businesses and nonprofits.
All virus-related expenditures using CARES funding will be closed out by June 30.
The one-half cent public safety sales tax is estimated to generate a revenue of $358 million, which is a 12 percent increase compared to last year’s projection of $317.7 million.
Of the public safety sales tax, 80 percent, or $286.4 million, will go to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The remaining 20 percent, $71.6 million, will go to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
This fiscal year’s biggest risk is the uncertainty of costs related to mitigation measures and economic impacts of the ongoing pandemic.
The county receives reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for expenses related to the pandemic. However, the county has experienced delays in receiving FEMA reimbursement.
The county said in its report, “The unpredictable nature of this funding source presents a budgetary and fiscal risk, so it is closely monitored.”
County executives will present the recommended budget to the board of supervisors during the June 8 public budget hearings.
The board is scheduled to adopt the budget during its June 22 meeting.