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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Economy, and Civility Too

September 17, 1993

The Orange County Board of Supervisors is right to keep up the pressure for spending cuts wherever possible, especially during the recession. The latest worthwhile idea to catch the supervisors' eyes is early retirement for county workers. But in the process, the board shouldn't browbeat county staff, which has been working diligently toward the same goals.

County Budget Director Ronald S. Rubino told the supervisors this week that 63 employees took early retirement last year, adding up to about $3 million in annual savings in salaries and benefits. But that number is a tiny fraction of the county's 17,000 workers. Many more are eligible for an early out, perhaps 2,000 by the county's figuring.

Supervisor Roger R. Stanton complained that retirement incentives were not provided in all county agencies this year, when 80 workers were told they would be laid off and the supervisors were forced to cut services in numerous programs. Stanton's concerns are well-founded, but his method of expressing them needs improvement.

At the board's meeting this week, he hectored County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider, bluntly demanding, "What are you waiting for?" And he complained that Schneider's office tends to forget that it's the supervisors who set county policy.

But Schneider and Rubino have done yeoman work this year in trying to balance the books. The inordinate delay by the state in determining how much money it would funnel to counties forced local governments to draw up various budget scenarios. When the number finally arrived, it turned out to mean an $80-million deficit for the county.

That forced county libraries to drastically cut back, shutting down on some days. Other cuts were made as well. The county could get some help if state voters approve extension of a half-cent sales tax increase in November. If the voters reject the measure, the county will lose about $130 million a year.

County officials must worry about the budget year-round, not just during hearings. All methods to cut costs need to be explored, and with civility at that.

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