Government budget season is often a marathon characterized by disagreements and debates over how public money should be spent. During the course of Monterey County’s deliberations over fiscal year’s 2021-22 $1.6 billion budget, there was a constant refrain among elected officials and staff: This has been a “weird” budget year.
The weirdness of Monterey’s County’s budget year comes in two parts. The pandemic threw government budgets across the country in flux, initially requiring difficult decisions on the fate of public programs. Ezequiel Vega, the county’s budget officer, told the Board of Supervisors that projected general fund revenue growth will not be enough to keep up with rising employee benefit costs.
The federal government then passed the American Rescue Plan Act, which sent $84.3 million to Monterey County with an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2024. Although the federal dollars offered much-needed bandages, it still left the county with difficult decisions on which wounds to address. After putting almost all of the $23.8 million of ARP funds for fiscal year 2020-21 toward pandemic response, county staff are recommending the board switch priorities in 2021-22.
According to a staff recommendation to spread the money across four buckets over the next three years, most of the remaining dollars will be spent in 2021-22. The county’s budget team recommended spending $14.6 million to cover revenue losses; $12.5 million on infrastructure projects; and $4.5 million on economic recovery, $2 million of which would fund grants to local businesses. Pandemic response gets the smallest slice, $2.6 million.
Even with the additional funds, the county’s recommended budget is unable to cover a third of the additional full-time positions requested across departments. The county is also in collective bargaining negotiations, which officials expect will cost around $15 million once an agreement is reached.
A final proposed budget comes back to the Board of Supervisors for approval on June 22.