Moved by the dramatic pleas of Ventura County Sheriff John Gillespie, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors this week adopted a $535-million budget for 1988-89 that includes a quarter million dollars to start a countywide anti-gang task force.
Gillespie told the board Monday that the county must move quickly to combat organized gangs from South-Central Los Angeles that are "entrenching" in Ventura County and selling drugs from motel rooms, apartments and street corners.
"I've never in all my years felt as strongly about an issue as I do this one," Gillespie said. "If we don't move by this year the gangs will be entrenched and next year it will be too late."
Includes Salary Raises
Altogether, this year's budget includes 117 new jobs and what officials call a comfortable $4.7-million contingency, or reserve fund. Part of that money will be used this fall to fund salary increases for the county's 5,000 employees.
The budget erases the dire picture painted last fall by Chief Administrative Officer Richard Wittenberg, who predicted up to $8 million in shortfalls.
County Budget Manager Bert Bigler attributed the cheerier picture in part to an increase in the assessed valuation of real property because of the skyrocketing real estate market. The county also saved money last year when it cut 170 positions and asked each department to shave its budget by 10%.
Law enforcement was the biggest winner in the 1988-89 budget, garnering 72 new positions, including 14 at the Rose Valley Work Camp, a former U.S. Forest Service camp north of Ojai that officials hope will house 160 minimum-security inmates when it opens in November. The East Valley Sheriff's Station in Thousand Oaks, also under construction, was allocated five sheriff's deputies, to be hired when that facility opens in January.
The board also earmarked $80,000 for two planners who will update and revise the Ojai Valley Area Plan and $75,000 to study overcrowding of mentally ill patients at the Ventura County Medical Center.
On Tuesday, law enforcement officials reiterated their concern about gangs and hailed the board's action.
The supervisors allocated $258,000 to hire an additional sheriff's lieutenant, a senior deputy, two criminologists and a clerk to work full-time compiling lists of gang members and investigating gang and drug-related activity. The board also budgeted $50,000 for a study of anti-gang strategies to be drawn up by the sheriff's department, the district attorney's office and law enforcement authorities in each city.
Gillespie originally asked the board for $760,000, which would have paid for a full-scale task force, including 11 new positions, radios, telephones, cars and computers.
But Assistant Sheriff Richard Bryce said Tuesday that the $258,000 provides sufficient seed money for the effort.
"There's virtually no community in Ventura County that's not touched by organized gangs. We have 25-plus black gang members in our jails now. We certainly would have liked funding at the larger level but we're very appreciative for the amount of help the board did give us," Bryce said.
Ventura County's budget, which passed the half-billion dollar mark this year for the first time, still pales by comparison to the $8.9 billion that Los Angeles County approved for 1988-89. The state of California's budget this year was $44 billion.
Ventura County projects that were passed over for funding included:
-- The district attorney's request for more prosecutors, including two attorneys to prosecute drug and gang-related crimes.
-- A registered nurse for the Ventura Family Planning Clinic.
-- A proposal to expand the county's overcrowded in-patient mental health facility at the Ventura County Medical Center.