Budgets are tangible expressions of our values. I believe we need to invest in youth development, housing affordability, climate resilience, and strengthening local businesses and our communities. On Sept. 1, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors will receive an update on the 2020-21 budget and conduct a workshop in advance of adoption of the Final Budget on Sept. 29.
Typically, the Final Budget addresses uncertainties such as final year end fund balances, impacts of state budget actions, and updated revenue and expenditure projections from the time of our Preliminary Budget approval in June 2020. This year, the Final Budget will also address reduced revenues and expenditures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the Board of Supervisors discussions about the Preliminary Budget on June 9, I raised several questions pertaining to the proposed 2020-21 budget for the Office of the District Attorney. The District Attorney is an elected department head with authority over their operations and accountable to the voters. Nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors is responsible to oversee the budgets for all county departments, included those managed by elected officers.
On Sept. 1, I will continue to pursue greater transparency about the proposed budget of the Yolo County DA. The DA proposes $23.8 million in total spending for 2020-21, an increase of $5.6 million or 31% over 2018-19 actual spending of $18.2 million. The DA’s request for county General Fund for 2020-21 is proposed to increase to $9.2 million, an increase of $1.8 million or 24% over 2018-19 actual spending.
The DA budget proposal can be found at pages 137 to 146 in the 2020-21 Recommended Budget. The material provided in this section of the Yolo County budget is strikingly vague, in comparison to information provided by every other county department. For example, the Goals and Strategies presented to support total expenditures of $23 million, including $9.2 million in County General Funds occupies about half a page.
The 2020-21 strategies are listed as:
Become more transparent to the Citizens of Yolo County.
Continue to collaborate with internal and external stakeholders to develop balanced criminal justice policies and procedures.
Continue to use Genealogical DNA testing – Cold Cases.
While these strategies may be laudable, they are not described in any manner or linked to any budget detail. The bulk of the DA budget presentation is devoted to descriptions of existing grant programs and not to a discussion of General Fund expenditures. This is in contrast to detailed descriptions of Goals and Strategies presented by the Probation Department, Public Defender, and Sheriff.
Knowing that the September adoption of the Final Budget would allow additional review of the overall budget and individual departmental proposals, I indicated on June 9, my interest in more information about the DA’s budget prior to final adoption. In order to be sure that my questions about the DA budget were clearly understood and fairly presented, I sent a detailed set of these questions to DA Jeff Reisig on July 10 so that his office would have plenty of time for consideration, response and discussion prior to Sept. 1.
What follows are some of the questions I transmitted via email to DA Reisig on July 10:
Overall Increase. What will the General Fund $9.2 million proposed funds be used for? What accounts for the $1.8 million proposed General Fund increase over the 2018-19 actual spending?
General Fund Increase. The DA is responsible to administer of several special funds, including Consumer Fraud and Environmental Protection settlements and fines, Tobacco Enforcement, and Seized Asset funds. As of June 30, 2019, fund balances within the discretion of the DA had a combined balance of $12,696,452, with the lion’s share of $9.8 million resting in the Consumer Fraud fund. In the 2019-20 budget, the DA tapped $1.4 million in fund balances to use for operations. The proposed budget only allocates $400,000 from these funds. Why is the level of fund balance allocation anticipated in the 2020-21 budget reduced by $1 million, given the current fiscal challenges facing the County General Fund? What is the DA’s plan for use of these funds?
Neighborhood Court. How many people are served through the Neighborhood Court program? How many for each offense category, jurisdiction and race and ethnicity? Given that the Neighborhood Court program is 90% funded by a three-year Edward Byrne grant and the DA has well over $12 million in fund balance, how would a reduction of $115,540 in General Fund impact the DA’s ability to divert or prosecute misdemeanor cases?
Asset Seizure. How much money has the DA collected through asset forfeiture, on average per year? Could assets seized by the DA be used to fund youth development, diversion or rehabilitation?
Consumer Fraud. Revenues to the Consumer Fraud and Environmental Protection Fund are gained by pursuit of those who do harm to the community. Doesn’t it make sense that those funds would be reinvested to directly benefit members of our community?
Victim Services. The Budget Book indicates the Victim Assistance Program’s Expenditures are fully covered by designated Revenues and there is no net county cost. Therefore, any General Fund budget cuts to the DA’s Office would not affect the Victim Assistance Program, correct?
Demographics of Charging and Incarceration. Does the DA keep ethnicity and racial statistics on charging practices and incarceration?
I believe the substantial increase in proposed funding is worthy of scrutiny. The questions I have raised are appropriate matters of inquiry and within the reasonable scope of exercise of my responsibility as a member of the Board of Supervisors. At a time with constrained resources, we must evaluate the best-use of our limited funds. We should weigh the priority for County General Fund investments in youth development, climate resilience, and strengthening community and local business to more effectively achieve our shared goal of long-term public safety.
Further, I believe that a full and transparent response is a reasonable expectation of any elected official. This is especially reasonable, given the stated strategy of the Yolo County District Attorney to “Become more transparent to the Citizens of Yolo County.”
[This piece was also published in the Daily Democrat on August 30, 2020. That version can be accessed here.]