The recently established Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is being allocated nearly one-half million dollars in the proposed 2021 Monroe County budget.
County Executive Adam Bello unveiled the proposal at a news conference Nov. 5. It is his first budget since being elected last November.
The spending plan would address issues such as diversity, addiction, job training and day care that were raised in the transition report that Bello received in February – before COVID-19 changed everything. The proposed budget is influenced by the human and economic effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Among other things, the plan would boost child care subsidies and reduce the parent fee for child care; support families and children who need transportation for early intervention services and boost reimbursement for pre-school special education; and fund a study to expand broadband internet access to underserved areas.
It also seeks to expand the Forensic Intervention Team, which responds to mental health crises, to a 24/7 operation.
The $1.2 billion budget is a 0.4% increase over the adopted budget for 2020, which turned out to be the last budget proposed by former County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo.
Bello’s budget lowers the property tax rate by 26 cents, making it $8.53 per $1,000 of assessed value. On average, homeowners will pay less. But the lower tax rate doesn’t mean all homeowners will see a smaller tax bill in January. However, higher taxable values on homes and a lower property tax rate resulted in an overall levy – the amount of taxes – increased by about $11 million.
The budget proposal has to be approved by the legislature. Bello is a Democrat, and the legislature has a majority of Republicans.
Legislature Majority Leader Steve Brew released a statement criticizing the proposed budget:
“Adam Bello is again underestimating your intelligence by making you think he is cutting taxes when by his very own definition, he is actually raising taxes by $11 million,” he wrote. “Bello’s $11 million tax levy increase is nearly double the 10-year historical average. Taxpayers are tired of the hypocrisy displayed by politicians who say one thing to get elected and then do the opposite once in office. If Adam Bello said last year’s levy was a tax increase, then he must also admit that he is trying to raise taxes by $11 million.”
Bello called the budget “a responsible plan for uncertain times” and said it reflects the county’s values and priorities.
It also factors in the loss of sales tax revenue and state aid because of COVID-19. The county has set aside some of its fund balance – or savings account – for just that scenario. The proposed budget uses a portion of what had been allocated.
“This is a good plan in that we are not using all of the assigned fund balance for COVID-19 related revenue losses,” Finance Director Bob Franklin said. “If this pandemic continues for a second or third year, we will have an opportunity to appropriate funds in the ’22 budget.”
Franklin said he would be eyeing ways to rebuild that rainy-day account.
Under the budget, the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion would receive $474,881.
Legislation to create the department was proposed by Bello in July and passed by the legislature. According to the budget, the department “assists and monitors all departments and offices of Monroe County in their effort to recruit and retain employees from historically underrepresented groups and to provide affirmative and supportive environments for work and life at Monroe County. DEI will provide the leadership necessary to assist, consult and monitor the coordination of efforts that foster diversity, equity and inclusion throughout all employment and procurement processes.”
The department also will “cultivate a culture of inclusiveness throughout the county. DEI will reach beyond the walls of county government to establish beneficial relationships with individuals and institutional partners who share our mutual goals and interests. At Monroe County, we envision a community of understanding, acceptance and respect.”
The proposed budget appropriates $285,482 for personnel; $100,000 for contractual services; $1,000 for supplies and materials; and $86,399 for employee benefits.
Performance measures for the department have yet to be developed.
The Forensic Intervention Team is housed in the Department of Human Services. Currently, it works with law enforcement and is dispatched at the request of officers responding to a 911 call.
Over the past few months since the death of Daniel Prude, activists have called for a different response to mental hygiene calls. Corinda Crossdale, Deputy County Executive for Health and Human Services, said the protocol is being reassessed. She said conversations are underway with 211/Lifeline on how to triage calls that may require something other than or in addition to a police response.
Bello said he will introduce to the legislature a bill that would allow the county to use a grant from the Department of Justice for the expanded FIT service.
The proposed budget anticipates an increase of more than 1,000 individuals seeking mental health services and about 500 more individuals seeking substance abuse services.