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County Doubts Effectiveness of Cost-Cutting Plan : Budget: State legislation that envisioned a saving of $500 million locally is pie in the sky, officials contend. One supervisor calls recommendations 'a list of fluff.'


SANTA ANA — State legislation has outlined more than $500 million in potential savings for local government, but Orange County officials say the laws amount to little more than paper-shuffling and are not expected to free up any real money for needy programs.

The legislation, addressing more than 70 possible areas of cost-cutting, was written to offer some relief to California counties after the shift of $2.6 billion in local property tax revenue to the state.

But County Budget Director Ronald S. Rubino and Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said Thursday after a public hearing on the county budget that the offer lacks the massive aid that local government needs to keep state-mandated criminal justice and social service programs funded.

"There is no 'there' there," Stanton said, sarcastically referring to a 12-page summary of the legislation. "There is hardly anything on there that has any substance at all. What we got is a big, long list of fluff."

At best, officials said, the legislation could save up to $4.3 million, with the bulk of that possible saving coming if the state allows the county to reduce welfare payments by $3 million. The county budget is $3.6 billion.

However, no procedures exist that would allow the county to apply for the relief. Further, eligibility to reduce welfare payments applies only to counties classified as financially "distressed."

That is a categorization that may not fit Orange County. Unless voters turn down a ballot measure aimed at a permanent extension of the half-cent sales tax that would provide $137 million to fund local public safety programs, a social service official said it is unknown whether Orange County could even qualify to participate in such a program.

"I have not seen anything that would clarify the state position," said Angelo R. Doti, director of financial assistance in the Social Services Department. "Every county is very concerned that if the sales tax doesn't pass, a great number of counties would classify themselves as financially distressed. . . . How are they going to decided who gets the relief? This could well be something that is too little too late."

Orange County's welfare payment budget for 1993-94 totals about $10 million in general relief payments and serves about 4,000 clients.

A separate piece of legislation promises a saving of about $200,000 for California counties by absolving county governments from the responsibility of funding the School Crossing Guard Program. However, according to a summary of the law, the counties would be required to find other sources of funding before there could be a saving.

"As it stands, there isn't much relief here," Rubino said after Thursday's public budget hearing before the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors have been grappling with budget troubles throughout the summer, cutting funding to libraries, flood control, health care and other services included in the spending plan that is expected to be approved next month.

Although a 1% pay increase was approved earlier this year for county employees to offset a corresponding rise in the cost of retiree medical benefits, the board has imposed a hiring freeze and banned any additional increases this year.

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