The OC Board of Supervisors makes decisions on how to spend OUR tax dollars. They control an almost $1 billion discretionary budget (sometimes called “Net County Costs”) that they set the priorities for. Because the Supervisors work for us, the budget they develop should reflect our priorities.
But even though their process is supposed to be public, it is difficult to figure out how we, as residents of Orange County, can influence the Supervisors’ decisions. To be effective advocates, we need to understand how the budget process works and the windows of opportunity for advocacy.
This year, the process is a little different because of the pandemic. We’ll lay out the usual process and show how it is different this year. The below information comes from the Orange County Budget Primer and the California Budget & Policy Center.
Knowledge is power! Understand the budget cycle.
December – January Reaching out to county departments
The County Manager prepares budget instructions for county departments, with input from the Board of Supervisors on their budget objectives.
February – April Developing the Recommended Budget
- County departments develop budget requests.
- The County Manager reviews budget requests.
- The Board of Supervisors may convene budget workshops in order to clarify Board and public priorities as the County Manager develops the Recommended Budget
Normal year: May – June Recommended Budget
- In a normal year, the Board of Supervisors makes the Recommended Budget available for public review on its website.
- The county also announces a public hearing date.
- The public hearing date usually happens about a month after the release of the Recommended Budget. The budget hearings are usually in June, and last one-to-two days. This is a chance for advocates to analyze the Recommended Budget and mount campaigns to demand a budget that aligns with community values.
- The Board may revise the Recommended Budget based on pressure from advocates or other stakeholders.
- The Board approves the Recommended Budget, with or without revisions, by June 30.
*This year—The Board of Supervisors has delayed the release of the Recommended Budget until August because of the pandemic. The Budget Hearings are on September 1-2.
Normal year: July – September Updated Budget
- The County Manager prepares an Updated Budget, building on the Recommended Budget as approved by the Board of Supervisors.
- These revisions may take into account a variety of factors, including YOUR advocacy!
*NOTE: Last year, the updated budget added $105.6 million in discretionary funds to “public protection” (jails, law enforcement, and the courts). The funding for “public protection went from 44.3% of discretionary funding in the Recommended Budget to 56% of discretionary funding in the Adopted Budget. This content will show up directly in its container.
- The Board convenes a public hearing to consider the updated county budget. This review typically occurs in September, but may happen in July or August, at county discretion.
Normal Year: October Vote on Adopted Budget
- The Board formally adopts the budget, possibly with additional revisions, by October 2.
*This year—Because the timeline has shifted due to the pandemic, the above process of finalizing and adopting a budget will take place AFTER the Budget Hearings on September 1.
After the Board of Supervisors adopts the budget:
- The county provides a copy of the Adopted Budget to the California Controller by December 1.
The County Manager provides revenue and spending updates to the Board throughout the year
The Adopted Budget may be revised as the fiscal year proceeds, with many types of changes requiring a four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.
County officials may develop or update a strategic plan, establishing long-term priorities that will be reflected in the county budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
The Board, the County Manager, department heads, and the public look ahead to the next budget cycle.
How can residents of OC influence the county discretionary budget right now?
- Before and during the Budget Hearings: Leading up to the Budget Hearings on September 1, you can join the People’s Budget OC campaign to demand a Recommended Budget that works for the people.
- After the Budget Hearings: If the Recommended Budget continues to prioritize law enforcement and jails over community you can join the People’s Budget OC campaign to demand that the Supervisors adopt a People’s Budget.
How can residents of OC influence the county discretionary budget year-round?
There are many opportunities to influence the budget process throughout the year, including:
Before the Hearings on the Recommended Budget:
- Shaping the strategic plan for the next year;
- Attending public workshops where budget priorities are discussed and developed;
- Ongoing advocacy to influence the development of the Recommended Budget before it is made public;
- Advocacy to change the priorities of the Recommended Budget before it is voted on.
After the Budget Hearings for the Recommended Budget:
- Advocacy to change the priorities of the Recommended Budget in the Updated Budget.
- Board of Supervisors meetings
- Public hearings on the Updated Budget