The city of Sacramento was the main local news story in 2014. The arena and the strong-mayor controversy were our community’s top water-cooler topics. Well, for better or worse, the arena will be built and we will not have a strong mayor. So it’s time to move on to other topics. I believe that the big newsmaker of 2015 will be the county of Sacramento.
Much is happening at the county. The city of Sacramento has a respectable $900 million budget, but the county budget is four times bigger, coming in at $3.6 billion. What’s more, the county is in charge of signing people up for Medi-Cal, CalFresh, and Veterans Services. These programs bring hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state aid to the county.
There will be big issues for the county to sort out next year. Here are a few.
Development: Construction is back. Building fees, land use decisions and affordable housing concerns are all back, front and center. This means that developers will have a lot riding on county decisions. Developer contributions will lubricate the political process. And the increase in construction fees will provide more money for the county’s general fund.
Foster care: Following the successful experiment in Alameda County, Sacramento will receive a set amount from the federal government to run foster care services, instead of being reimbursed according to the number of children in foster care. This is an important reform, because it helps pay for programs that can help families stay together. It will mean a significant revamping of the county’s child protective services.
Jail: What types of offenders should the district attorney be sending to jail? How should we deal with drug offenders? What is the role of the criminal-justice system in dealing with people with mental illness? Should jail time be used for vocational and educational training, reducing recidivism? The issues are endless and important.
In addition, the county is a major player in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s Medi-Cal policies. The county will receive additional revenue through the state’s cap and trade program for a wide assortment of environmental projects, and the county is adopting new procedures for improving its animal-control facilities.
The big news on the political front is that liberal Patrick Kennedy is replacing conservative Jimmie Yee on the five-member Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. This should be a sea change. The supervisors previously had one liberal, Phil Serna; one moderate, Don Nottoli; and three conservatives, Susan Peters, Roberta MacGlashan and Jimmie Yee. Now there are two liberals and two conservatives and one moderate. On controversial issues, Nottoli will be the swing vote.
With 20 years on the board and possessing a seemingly photographic memory, Nottoli will make for an interesting and influential swing vote. Can the county staff present the plans and proposals that will make dramatic improvements to our critical county services? I believe they will.
And that is what will make news in 2015.