County suspends projects to free up money for virus recovery aid

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego County’s annual budget process will be delayed a couple months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the county’s chief administrative officer said Tuesday.

The county will now present its 2020-21 budget in July, with a planned adoption in August, Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer said.

She added that the county is suspending all capital projects, and will work with the state on disaster recovery funding.

“These are interesting and challenging times across the globe,” Robbins-Meyer told the county Board of Supervisors. “You already know the criticality of the health crisis we’re facing. These unprecedented times require unprecedented action.”

Robbins-Meyer said the county is extending sick leave benefits, and has reserves to help it during the response and recovery period. Early actual costs are around $10 million a month and will “ramp up,” she said.

There are serious challenges, including fewer state or federal grants and market losses affecting the county pension system, Robbins-Meyer said.

She added the county is listening to public health experts, along with representatives from school districts, business chambers and other institutions.

“We’re bringing varied voices to make sure everyone is heard,” said Robbins-Meyer, who thanked public employees and union leadership for being supportive.

She stressed the county will “soldier through despite these uncertainties.”

“We are ready,” Robbins-Meyer said. “We’re in this together.”

Supervisors also heard from county Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten, who updated the county’s efforts in response to the coronavirus, from testing to monitoring the number of cruise ships arriving in San Diego.

Wooten said testing capacity continues to grow, and the county is in the process of bringing in Abbott testing kits. The county is also working with seven area hospitals on testing, she added.

“We’re now in the mitigation phase of containment,” Wooten said, which is necessary to flatten the curve of new cases until vaccines or treatments are available.

Wooten stressed that residents need to follow California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s executive order to stay at home, practice social distancing, only go out for essential reasons and wash hands frequently.

Supervisor Jim Desmond asked if the county could provide better data on the number of people diagnosed with coronavirus who did recover.

Wooten said the county captures information for those hospitalized, but can’t do the same for those residents who stay at home.

Robbins-Meyer said the number of cases are increasing at a rapid rate, but at the same time, “a lot of people that are positive are recovering and doing quite well.”

She added that gathering data on that particular group is complicated, as the county doesn’t have a total of how many people are self-isolating.

Desmond added that under such extraordinary circumstances, the county is doing a pretty good job, but added that people shouldn’t fall into a sense of complacency.

In a related action, the board also voted to defer environmental health fees for small food and beverage businesses for the next six months. Gaspar and Desmond sponsored the proposal.

“During this challenging time, we know every dime matters to these businesses,” Gaspar said. “We will get through this, and demonstrate the best of humanity while we do it.”

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