San Mateo County is considering a pared-down budget for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 fiscal years as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The county took a small hit last year as tourism dollars waned, but Chief Financial Officer Robert Manchia said conservative budgeting and a proactive approach to crisis management will keep it afloat.
The two-year budget, released last week, projects $6.3 billion in spending, the majority of which is dedicated to health and community services, including public works, housing and community development, county parks and other infrastructure.
Manchia said that reduced revenues are due to decreased travel into the county via San Francisco International Airport, which normally accounts for a significant amount to the county’s sales tax. But armed with funding from the state and federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the county is still able to launch and sustain pandemic response programs, including vaccination programs, homeless shelters and food assistance.
While revenue didn’t keep up with increased costs this year and remained fairly flat, Manchia said, unlike the post-2008 financial crisis, no drastic cuts are needed in county programs.
“We’re not saying that it's great, or that it couldn't be better, but (county revenue) is not close to (the) same flow as it used to be,” Manchia said.
Instead, Macchia said the county is looking to the federal American Rescue Plan Act and the state budget to help with future pandemic-related costs. Those federal and state expected revenues were not incorporated into this draft of the budget and instead will be included in the September version, Manchia said.
Amid conversations both locally and across the nation about the future of funding for policing, the county’s criminal justice budget is set to remain stable for the next two fiscal years. Manchia said while some policies and programs have changed within county departments, shuffling funding around, the overall costs and revenues of criminal justice departments, including the Sheriff’s Office and Probation Department, remain largely unchanged.
On the Coastside, using Measure K funds on wildfire prevention is a priority, Manchia said. Some line items include millions in spending approved for the new Pescadero fire station, additional natural resources staff and millions dedicated to fire mitigation projects throughout the area. Overall, nearly $40 million is allocated to fire protection services over the next two years, with a target of reducing 375 acres of fire fuel in each of the next two years.
The county’s approach to budgeting is conservative so that in times of crisis it can be proactive, Manchia said. Last year, after using general fund dollars to front certain pandemic costs, the county pursued grants and external funding, including from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to minimize losses. While not every cost will be recovered, Manchia said being prepared to help residents immediately is critical, as is maintaining its required 10 percent reserve, which can help to insulate it against other crises or a COVID-19 resurgence.
“The Board of Supervisors and (County Manager) Mike Callagy take great pride in being conservative, so they don't have to react to dollar values,” Manchia said. “They react to the crisis to help react to the dollars down the road.”