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Orange County Focus

Countywide : County OKs Budget, Pins Hopes on Voters

September 29, 1993|KEVIN JOHNSON

The County Board of Supervisors gave final approval Tuesday to a $3.6-billion spending plan that depends largely on statewide voter approval of the half-cent sales tax extension in November.

The 1993-94 budget calls for up to 75 employee layoffs and cuts deeply into an array of public services, including a 44% reduction in county library hours.

Budget Director Ronald S. Rubino said county analysts are already preparing for the worst: possible defeat of the sales tax extension on Nov. 2, which in Orange County could mean the loss of $64 million for the remainder of the budget year, or more than $130 million annually.

"If the sales tax doesn't pass," Rubino said after Tuesday's board meeting, "we're looking at remaking the entire budget in December. That's not going to be pretty."

If the ballot measure is passed statewide, Orange County will receive the full benefit even if voters here reject the tax extension.

Since the tax extension entirely benefits local public-safety services, failure of the November referendum could mean large and immediate losses for the Sheriff's Department, the County Fire Department and the district attorney's office. Under the current budget, sales tax revenue funds about 90% of Sheriff Brad Gates' $163-million operation.

Much of the budget woe, as with other counties, can be traced to a state-mandated shift earlier this year of $2.6 billion in local property tax revenue to fund public schools.

In Orange County, that shift resulted in an $8-million reduction to the library system and a $24-million cut to flood-control services, both heavily dependent on property tax revenue.

But compared to such jurisdictions as Los Angeles County, where workers have been asked to take pay cuts and county hospitals are slated for closure, even local officials would admit that Orange County has so far weathered the fiscal storm fairly well.

And county officials have added 35 new jobs from a year ago. Virtually all of those jobs are being funded by state and federal grant programs or as a result of new contracts with municipal governments.

Late-winter projections of an unprecedented budget shortfall totaling about $100 million were virtually erased by summer, when the county won millions in state and federal grant funds.

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