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County Urged to Cut Up to 400 Positions : Budget: The auditor says reductions are needed to offset a projected loss of up to $60 million in state support.

May 05, 1993|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County's auditor-controller told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to prepare to slash up to 400 positions--about 6% of the county's work force--to balance the county's budget next year.

Outlining a Draconian fiscal picture for the board, Auditor-Controller Thomas O. Mahon said the supervisors must make permanent reductions to offset a projected loss of up to $60 million in state support.

The supervisors agreed to forward Mahon's proposal to the county budget committee for consideration.

But Supervisors John K. Flynn and Maria VanderKolk continued to argue that the county should cut employee salaries before laying off a large number of employees.

"If we can save jobs by reductions in salary, I would prefer that," VanderKolk said.

Flynn said he had planned to ask the board on Tuesday to do away with the budget committee, which shot down his and VanderKolk's proposal to cut salaries. But he said he decided to hold off on the request because Supervisor Vicky Howard was not at the meeting. Flynn said he will bring up the issue again in two weeks.

Since Gov. Pete Wilson outlined his Spartan fiscal plan in January, county officials have been struggling to find ways to deal with a sharp cut in funding.

As part of his plan, Wilson wants to shift $2.6 billion in property tax funds from local governments to the schools.

The cut, Mahon said Tuesday, will mean a loss of about $32 million next year from the county's general fund. In addition, he said, the County Fire Department and library services could lose an additional $23 million.

"While the projections can hardly be called optimistic, they are far from representing a worst-case scenario," Mahon told the supervisors.

Although the supervisors are moving ahead with plans to assess each county homeowner $110 to help fund fire services, Mahon warned county officials not to expect the money.

Under state code, if enough property owners representing 5% of the assessed value file formal complaints against the tax, the measure must then be decided through a special election in June, 1994.

If the tax goes to a vote, Mahon said he believes residents will reject it.

"There is no basis to assume that the public has been convinced that they should pay more taxes," Mahon said in his report to the board.

He also said the financial problems will only get worse as state lawmakers continue to grapple with ways to balance their budget.

"This is not a one-year problem or a two-year problem," Mahon said. "In the long term we have nothing favorable to look forward to. Even if the economy were to turn around."

In addition, he said, the county will be faced next year with the cost of operating the new jail--at an estimated annual expense of $12 million.

Mahon urged the supervisors to be prepared to cut staff levels by July 1.

Many of the 400 positions now up for elimination are vacant. Officials estimate that at least 100 people will lose their jobs if the supervisors follow Mahon's recommendation.

Supervisor Maggie Kildee expressed dismay that the county is faced with cutting 400 positions from its 6,500-member work force. She continued to blast the state for seeking to cut the funds.

"There needs to be a real revolt on the part of the citizens," she said. "People need to say, 'I don't like what's happening.'

"Eliminating 300 to 400 positions is going to be very, very painful."

VanderKolk said that while she is resigned to the fact that some workers must be cut, she would prefer that the county "ease into" the layoffs.

Reducing salaries, she said, would save the county from eliminating a large number of jobs.

Added Flynn: "We are in favor of some kind of cutback, but it's going to be a combination of things."

In March, Flynn and VanderKolk proposed that the county save $20 million with an across-the-board pay cut for workers and reductions in lucrative fringe benefits for top county mangers.

While the proposed reductions would translate to a 5% cut for some rank-and-file employees, the suggested reductions in benefits could cost some county managers up to 30% of their overall compensation.

But the county's budget committee, which includes Kildee, Howard and 10 other top county officials, rejected the proposal at its April 21 meeting. The county leaders agreed that they would rather eliminate staff than cut paychecks.

"In my opinion, that is not the way to reduce the budget this year," Flynn told the board members. "We've got to change the process."

But Mahon said the sharp layoffs are the county's best option for permanently reducing costs.

"People will always want to get their salaries back to where they were," Mahon said. "It's a short-term fix. The amount of deficit is going to be so large that we are not going to be able to deal with it with quick fixes."

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