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Privatization Offers Public Benefits

March 07, 1993

As chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, I would like to commend the support for privatization contained in the Commentary by Assemblyman Gil Ferguson ("County Needs Latitude to Contract Out Jobs, Save Tax Money," Jan. 31).

His support of Senate Bill 84 and the legislative effort begun by Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) this past year to remove unnecessary barriers to the use of private contracts by general-law counties will enhance our continuing efforts to cut costs while being responsive to local needs.

Times readers should be aware that Orange County has been a leader in forming partnerships with the private sector. During the 1991-92 fiscal year, Orange County had $878 million in private contracts.

We have privatized the traditional "county hospital" services, which is reflected in the $180 million in operating services contracts for medical and public health services and drug, alcohol and mental health programs.

We have also privatized much of our indigent legal defense, facilities maintenance, information systems and other services. Passage of Senate Bill 84 would allow us to explore additional privatization opportunities for the benefit of the residents.

I must also make several factual corrections to Mr. Ferguson's comments. He said that Orange County had laid off only 16 employees. In fact, the Board of Supervisors deleted 792 positions between December, 1990, when we placed a hiring freeze on all nonessential positions, and Jan. 26, 1993.

This reflects an ongoing annual savings of $17,556,040 and a reduction of approximately 5% of the county's work force.

We have responded to our current economic downturn and held positions unfilled as they became vacant, rather than filling them and then laying off people. Being painfully aware of the unemployment rate in Orange County (6%), we have attempted to avoid layoffs, if possible, so as not to further contribute to our current economic decline, while operating prudently within our financial constraints. Rather than the inaction suggested by Ferguson, this approach reflects the responsible downsizing of Orange County government through strategic planning.

It is important to note that the county has been forced to add new positions over the past two years to staff new criminal justice facilities (jails) and to meet state and federal mandates for social service and health care programs.

The Commentary also stated that the county surveyor's office competes with private surveyors. In fact, as we reported to Mr. Ferguson on Aug. 28, 1992, the county surveyor does not offer services to private individuals, although to do so is legally permissible. Further, during the 1991-92 fiscal year, the county surveyor administered 52 contracts, totaling $5,116,771, with the private sector for mapping and survey services. The philosophy of the Board of Supervisors has always been to contract out to the private sector wherever it is legally allowed to do so.

When comparing the fiscal condition of California county governments, Orange County is in far better condition than most, largely due to our conservative management of our limited resources.

HARRIETT M. WIEDER

Chairman, Orange County Board of Supervisors

Santa Ana

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