At the San Diego Central Jail in downtown, two inmates are housed in the Psychiatric Inpatient Unit. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gary Warth
March 3, 2018 – 06:00 a.m.

Counties throughout the state are holding onto millions of dollars intended for mental health services, a recently released state audit has found.

The audit is forgiving of San Diego County, which was found to allocate funds appropriately and monitor projects effectively, although it also was sitting on about $185 million at the time of the study.

The money comes from Proposition 63, a 2004 initiative known as the Mental Health Services Act, which placed a 1 percent income tax on state residents who earned $1 million or more annually.

The audit released last week from state Auditor Elaine Howle found mental health agencies around California had accumulated $231 million in unspent money from the Mental Health Services Act by the end of fiscal year 2015-16.

About $1.5 billion was generated by the act that fiscal year, and the state allocated $1.4 billion to 59 county and local mental health agencies.

Alfredo Aguirre, San Diego County’s Behavioral Health Services director, said the audit shows his department was being responsible with its funds, which he said will be spent down to a required, “prudent” reserve of $42 million by fiscal year
The department already has spent down its reserve to $60 million since fiscal year 2015-16, the time frame studied in the audit, he said.

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