Despite 5% budget cuts in Ventura County departments last July, the Board of Supervisors is now considering additional 2% to 5% reductions across the board to prepare for an austere year ahead.
The county could save up to $4 million through the departmental budget cuts and by reducing the use of county vehicles, decreasing seminar attendance and discontinuing a savings incentive program, county officials said.
The reductions are needed because the ongoing recession will bring sharp decreases in local sales tax revenue and in the state funds that account for about half of the county's total revenue, said Richard Wittenberg, the county's chief administrative officer.
If departments prepare now with gradual decreases in their budgets, he said, they may not be hit as hard when the new fiscal year begins in July.
"We don't know whether the 2% or 5% will be enough," Wittenberg said. "But we do know that the sooner we start on the problem, the more controllable it will be."
The Board of Supervisors will decide whether to approve the cuts on Tuesday.
But the additional reductions will be difficult to absorb for some departments such as the district attorney's office, which has already reduced "down to the bone," said Vince O'Neill, the chief deputy district attorney.
"Since September, 1991, we have already rejected 1,000 cases that would have been prosecuted," O'Neill said, referring to nonviolent misdemeanor cases such as petty theft, fish and game violations and motor vehicle offenses other than drunk driving.
"Any more cuts would involve further reductions in prosecutions."
O'Neill said that the district attorney's office should receive priority for funding in the county.
"We feel that the community, the supervisors' constituents, are very supportive of law enforcement," he said.
Supervisor John K. Flynn, who is recommending the midyear budget cuts as a member of the board's budget subcommittee, agreed that the county needs proper law enforcement. But he said other departments and programs such as mental health and protection for abused children also deserve priority.
"We just live in pretty awful times right now," he said. "But I can't pull money off trees. You've got to make choices."
The recommended budget cuts follow the 5% cut implemented in most departments with the new fiscal year July 1, and 3% reductions midway through the last fiscal year in January, 1991.
If the supervisors approve the recommendation, as expected, the department heads would choose whether to slash their budgets now by 2% and continue with a 2% cut into the next fiscal year, or maintain their existing budgets and take 5% cuts in July.
However, Bert Bigler, the county's budget manager, said that midyear budget cuts are difficult to absorb because the departments have presumably already spent half of their year's budget. That makes a 2% cut seem more like a 4% decrease, he said.
"But the incentive to take the cut now is that it will only be 2% next year instead of 5%," Bigler said.
In addition to the budget cuts, the county could save about $5,100 per year for each county-owned vehicle that it eliminates from its 1,000-vehicle fleet, Bigler said.
The county's general fund could save about $200,000 by trimming the $1 million allotted for attendance at conferences and seminars by the county's 6,700 employees. Another $500,000 to $700,000 could be made available if the county discontinues its incentive program for departments that spend less money than their budgets allow.
Through the program, departments that come in under budget at the end of the fiscal year can use a portion of the saved money for one-time expenses such as new computers or other equipment.
Supervisor Vicky Howard is also recommending that the board adopt a program to provide incentives for employees to retire early, but Bigler said it was impossible to estimate how much savings early retirements would bring until department managers submit detailed proposals.