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Ventura County

Supervisors Warn Against Overruns

Department managers told not to expect any bailouts if they exceed their budgets this year.

November 27, 2002|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors warned government managers Tuesday not to expect a financial bailout if they overrun budgets this year -- even if it means cutting protected public safety budgets.

With the county already looking for ways to trim another $10 million from its $1.1-billion spending plan, there is little chance board members would agree to help out individual departments, supervisors said.

Austerity measures will extend into the next fiscal year because the state is facing its own fiscal crisis, projecting a $24-billion shortfall, officials said.

"We have to go back to the Depression to find a worse budget," Supervisor Steve Bennett said. "The low-hanging fruit has already been picked."

The biggest cost overruns, about $2.9 million, are in the Behavioral Health Department. Budget officials attribute the shortfall to decreased state funding for several programs.

The county's child-support division lost $1.7 million after a state audit concluded the county had been overpaid by that amount.

But funding requests by the sheriff and district attorney are expected to garner the most controversy. Dist. Atty. Greg Totten and Undersheriff Craig Husband said they will fight any attempt to further trim their programs.

The Sheriff's Department is projecting a $1.8-million overrun and the district attorney is reporting a $128,000 shortfall. Both departments have requested more funding to close the gaps.

Totten and Husband listened to supervisors' warnings without comment. But outside the board room, both said they would continue to press for more general fund money.

"Past boards have stated that public safety is a priority in this county, and we will look to this board to confirm that commitment," Husband said.

Totten said he has already cut 25 unfilled positions in his office, including 14 prosecutors. He has also eliminated two chief deputy positions, Totten said.

"We want to be good team players, but we have a primary responsibility to the public and to public safety," he said.

The board is scheduled to take up budget issues again on Dec. 17.

Several supervisors said they are frustrated that the state is mandating programs for which it fails to provide adequate funding. One example is the state's requirement that counties offer services to mentally ill youths through the public schools.

Although the county provides the services, the state is more than $6 million behind in paying for the programs, local officials said. "It's about time that the counties in the state go to Sacramento and say we are no longer willing to do this," Supervisor Judy Mikels said. "Until that happens, we will continue to be trounced."

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