As the dust began to settle Thursday from the massive state budgets cuts handed down a day earlier, Ventura County officials said the reductions could be much worse than anticipated for social services and the county court system.
"At this point, we are still unraveling and we are finding out how terrible it really is," said Barbara Fitzgerald, chief deputy director of the county's public social services agency. "Every day, there's a little bit more bad news coming in."
Fitzgerald said welfare benefits could be cut by an additional 1%--on top of a 4.5% reduction already handed down by the state Wednesday. That means that a single woman with two children could lose up to $37 a month in benefits.
In addition, 12% cuts will be made in a $500,000 program that provides assistance to 1,500 homebound elderly and disabled people in Ventura County.
"It will be absolutely devastating for some," said Jerry Blesener, deputy director of the county's Adult Services. "Some of these people cannot survive without these services."
Court officials, meanwhile, said the county could lose up to $1.9 million more in funding if Gov. Pete Wilson makes good on his pledge to veto a bill that would provide up to $200 million to trial courts through increased civil suit filing fees.
"We are just in a little shock right now," said Sheila Gonzalez, executive officer of the county Municipal and Superior Courts.
Officials said they are unsure of how they would absorb the additional hit in the county's $791-million budget. But court services could be sharply impacted. The additional cuts would come on top of a $491,000 reduction levied by the county two weeks ago.
"I guess no one will know (the extent of the impact) until the real dollar figures come down," said Florence Prushan, assistant executive officer of the courts. "It will not be good. This is a difficult and frustrating time for everyone."
On Wednesday, Wilson signed a $57.4-billion state budget that cuts deeply into health and welfare services for the poor, higher education and local governments.
As part of the package, $1.7 billion was sliced from programs such as Aid to Families With Dependent Children and funds for the aged, blind and disabled.
Medi-Cal also was significantly reduced, and Phillipp K. Wessels, director of the Ventura County Health Care Agency, said budget analysts still were trying to determine the extent of the county's losses.
He said the county's mental health department could lose $300,000 to $900,000, or 5% to 15%, of its state funding.
"It's not good," Wessels said. "I suppose that it's the worst I've seen it in my 10 years in California."
Officials say a barrage of complicated trailer bills--including the one that dramatically affects the trial courts--has made the budget difficult to interpret.
"There are so many hidden things in bills," said Penny Bohannon, the county's Sacramento lobbyist. "It's all worse than we thought. The more we look, the worse it gets.
"With every little bit we think we're gaining, we slide back."
The extent of the cuts to the county's library and fire services are yet to be determined because of conflicting information in bills, officials said.
Analysts said the two departments could face a spending cut of 12% to 35%, depending on the interpretation of legislation. County supervisors have already told the agencies to prepare to make 15% cutbacks.
Ventura County Fire Chief George E. Lund said he hopes to know within the next few days how much the department will lose. With a 12% cut, he said the department would be able to restore some of its service to the Moorpark and Simi Valley areas.
"I'm hearing mixed feedback," Lund said.