County budget up $147 million as staffing and liability costs rise

The Ventura County government will operate on a $2.7 billion budget in the next fiscal year, with new investments in health care.

The spending plan unanimously approved by the Supervisory Board on Monday is up 5.8%, a $147 million increase driven by salary and benefits growth, the addition of 250 new positions and doubling the cost of liability insurance.

The price of liability insurance has risen from $14 million to $31 million, a trend that is expected to continue over the next few years. Managers linked the surge to volatility in the insurance market, a shrinking number of insurers and the risks inherent in providing law enforcement, fire protection and health care services. health. The increase reflects higher premiums, not an increase in county losses, said Shawn Atin, county personnel manager.

Almost all of the new jobs are in health care, including public health clinics and programs and a long-planned unit for inmates diagnosed with psychiatric and other medical conditions. The unit is expected to open early next year at Todd Road Jail, west of Santa Paula.

Additional staff brings the total number of positions above 10,000 in local government which provides law enforcement, firefighting, environmental enforcement and other public services.

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Supervisor Matt LaVere said wages may need to rise more given inflation and the high cost of living in Ventura County.

Like other employers, the county is struggling to hire and keep people in the wake of the pandemic. Staff vacancies rose to 16% across county government from standard levels of 10-11%, Atin said.

Keeping staff is essential because public services need to be provided, said board chair Carmen Ramirez.

Chief Financial Officer Kaye Mand said the county is maintaining its high credit ratings, which lowers borrowing costs.

The county’s reserves for contingencies are $160 million, or 12.4 percent of the $1.29 billion general fund budget.

The county must add money each year to keep the percentage in the double digits as the budget grows. The new budget contains an additional $5 million, but the government never reached the 15% target.

Acting CEO Sevet Johnson said the county is in good financial shape but faces challenges including inflation, rising cost of elections now that ballots must be mailed to all voters and the impact of the stock market crash on the county pension fund.

The only trouble spot in the budget in recent years has been Ventura County’s medical system, which has struggled with deficits.

But officials project the network of hospitals and clinics will generate $9 million in the current fiscal year and break even in the new year that begins July 1. Spending is expected to reach $597 million, up $30 million, as services return to pre-pandemic levels, said Barry Zimmerman, director of the Departmental Health Care Agency.

Critics say the actual state of the books is worse because the medical system that is supposed to sustain itself depends on a fluctuating cash loan from the county general fund that is rarely repaid. The amount is expected to reach $124 million by June 30.

David Grau, president of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association, wonders if this is a loan or just a capital contribution.

“They don’t seem to be making any progress,” he said.

Zimmerman, however, says he will be reimbursed once the state sends the overdue funds. While there’s no guarantee this will ever happen, Zimmerman said many health systems are working on the issue.

Kathleen Wilson covers Ventura County government, including the county health system, politics and social services. Contact her at [email protected] or 805-437-0271.

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