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County Workers Union Increases Dues to Finance Besieged Budget

August 17, 1989|MEG SULLIVAN | Times Staff Writer

In a vote of confidence for Barry Hammitt, the executive director of the Public Employees Assn. of Ventura County, the union's governing board this week approved a budget that had been labeled disastrous by his critics.

PEAVC, the largest union for municipal and county employees in Ventura County, had been torn by charges that Hammitt had mismanaged its finances. Critics also charged Hammitt with hiring non-union labor to remodel its new headquarters. Hammitt has denied that charge.

The budget, approved by a 27-19 vote in a closed meeting Tuesday evening, increases the union's revenue by 27% from $534,000 to $619,000 by increasing dues.

Hammitt had told the board that such measures were necessary to meet increasing costs of the 2,605-member union, which last year purchased an office-condominium in Ventura, and this year faces increased insurance costs for staff members.

"It's a bare-bones budget," Hammitt said.

'Doomed to Failure'

But board member Don Hansen, an accounting manager in the office of Ventura County's Tax Collector, predicted that it was "doomed to failure."

He claimed that the increased dues of about $50 a year would result in a drop in membership, further pushing the union into the red.

"We have a substantial indication from members that if there's a large increase in dues, they're going to pull out," he said.

Hansen maintained that the budget masked a deficit that already runs as high as $52,000. He said the union's books for fiscal year 1988-89 were "a mess," and that an auditor hired to reconcile them had abandoned the task because he had not been paid, a charge that Hammitt denied.

Hansen complained that directors had passed a budget that was "based on a lot of unknowns and assumptions which could result in an even larger deficit at the end of the current year," he said. "We've got what appear to be some serious problems."

He also maintained that the budget taps the union's savings account and diverts strike funds to cover operating costs, which would cripple the union in the event of a job action.

Hammitt denied that the budget takes such steps. He also said Hansen and other critics have exaggerated the union's financial problems.

"The problem is not mismanagement," Hammitt said. "It's having dues that are too low for what the membership wants. If the directors would have adopted a budget with a smaller increase, they would have lost members that way because services would have had to have been cut."

Hammitt acknowledged there is a deficit, but said it was "less than half" the $52,000 cited by Hansen.

'Books Are Balanced'

"It would be inappropriate for me to be more specific," he said. "The books are balanced, and all the records are kept, and they've been submitted to the auditor. They're not a mess."

Linda Devlin, a bookkeeper for the South Coast Transit District and the board's treasurer, confirmed Hammitt's assessment. She said the confusion could be traced to the fact that the union is changing its system of accounting.

"When you go from one way of doing things to another, it takes some time, and things get confusing," she said.

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