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County Officials Predict Deep Cuts to Avert $9-Million Budget Deficit

November 26, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County officials warned Tuesday that major program reductions are necessary to balance the 1988-89 budget and avoid a shortfall of up to $9 million.

"We can't cobble it together anymore. Some programs are going to have to go," Supervisor James Dougherty said. His comments were spurred by a preliminary budget report issued this week that details the county's worsening financial condition.

The report, issued by Chief Administrative Officer Richard Wittenberg, warned that cutbacks in county services and staff layoffs might be required to balance the 1988-89 budget. He also said the county would incur a deficit of $6 million to $9 million if services such as health care and law enforcement are maintained at current levels.

The projections caused concern among board members, who say the county is already hard-pressed to provide services to a growing population at a time when federal and state funds have dwindled.

In an attempt to trim next year's budget, the board Tuesday approved an incentive program that asks each county department to shave its expenses by at least 3%--which would save the general fund $6 million. In return, each department would receive 10% of the amount saved.

That is in addition to a 5% across-the-board cut levied on each department last summer to help offset a $7-million deficit in the county's health care system.

The board also authorized its budget planners to draw up a list of county services and programs and recommend which might be curtailed or eliminated. In addition, supervisors decided to continue the budget review committee formed last year to study fiscal belt-tightening.

"We face a sobering time as we figure out what we're going to cut," said Supervisor Maggie Erickson, a member of the committee.

While the committee will probably wait until the spring to recommend specific measures, some critics say the board should examine its priorities now.

Project Delay Urged

Barry Hammitt, executive director of the county employees' union, said the county should postpone projects, such as building the East County Courthouse in Simi Valley, rather than curtail essential services.

"If I were them, I'd be more concerned about delivery of medical care and toxic cleanups than putting up new edifices," Hammitt said.

The present $500-million budget, which was approved in July, required that the county eliminate about 275 positions, dip into its contingency fund and use $9 million from funds that were to be reserved for emergencies.

Ventura County recently received $1.5 million out of an $89-million state appropriation to help fiscally strapped counties pay for increased costs of social services. But Wittenberg called that figure "woefully inadequate" to solve current problems and said he does not expect an additional windfall this year.

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