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Penny-Pinching Saves County $125 Million : Finances: Most of the money will go to cover budgeted labor savings. Some services may be restored, including the school crossing guard program.


Despite the county's fiscal woes, it will end up with $125 million more in its coffers than originally estimated mainly because of effective penny-pinching by managers, officials reported Monday.

Most of the money will be used to achieve $215 million in labor savings that the county had counted on in passing its $13.5-billion budget in July. But some money may also be used to restore services and other critical needs, said Chief Administrative Officer Harry L. Hufford in a report to be submitted to the Board of Supervisors today.

The $125-million windfall includes $80 million extra in the general fund, $15.1 million more than anticipated from the Fire Protection District, and $29.9 million more from the Flood Control District.

One of the first beneficiaries may be the county school crossing guard program, which lost its county funding in July. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote today to restore $1.8 million to the program, with the money coming from the newly realized funds.

The county had once sought to reach its labor savings goal by imposing salary and benefits cuts on thousands of workers, but on Friday, the county reached tentative agreements with 14 employee unions that avoid the cuts in favor of salary and overtime pay deferrals.

Meanwhile, the fate of two bills that would spare dozens of Los Angeles County health clinics and libraries is now in the hands of Gov. Pete Wilson after both were approved on the last day of the legislative session Friday.

One bill would release $72 million to the Department of Health Services to maintain 20 health clinics and four comprehensive health centers that otherwise would close next month, putting 1,500 employees out of work.

The other would allow the county to collect property taxes to keep open 43 public libraries through the creation of an assessment district, which would encompass 52 cities and unincorporated county areas. Cities, such as Los Angeles, with separate library systems also would be able to use assessment districts to raise revenues for libraries.

A last-minute amendment to the library bill gives district residents the right to hold an election within one year to decide whether to continue the assessment fees. The amendment was a compromise to address concerns of some legislators and reportedly the governor.

However, aides to Wilson said he has not decided whether he will sign the legislation. "He will decide what to do based on the merits of the bills once they reach his desk," said spokeswoman Beth Miller.

County officials said they had no idea which way Wilson will vote.

"We've been in contact with the governor's staff to urge approval and we're very hopeful," Hufford said.

Advocates of health clinics and libraries are keeping their fingers crossed as well. Besides providing money for county health clinics, the health bill would also free up about $14 million in Proposition 99 tobacco tax funding for private hospitals to shore up the county's trauma system. Health care experts testified during county budget deliberations that loss of the money might force many private hospitals to close emergency rooms.

Forty-three of the county's 87 libraries are scheduled to close Jan. 31 if the assessment district bill is not made law. Proponents received a blow when an emergency clause attached to the bill--allowing it to be implemented immediately upon signing--was removed.

If signed by Wilson, the bill would become law Jan. 1. County officials say that about $32 million could be accrued through the assessment district during the remainder of the fiscal year, which will end June 30, to maintain library services.

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