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Ventura County

Health, Welfare Services Face Cuts

Budget: County officials say a decrease in state funding could force further reductions in many local programs that benefit the poor.


Ventura County will be forced to trim millions of dollars in health and welfare services in response to cuts in the newly approved state budget, the county's budget manager said.

Budget experts for the county and local cities said they don't know how much money they will lose or what programs will be affected by the state's $99-billion budget signed last week by Gov. Gray Davis.

Davis used his line-item veto authority to pare $235 million from the 2002-03 budget. Most of the money, $177 million, was cut from the health and welfare budget.

"We don't know how it translates to us," Ventura County budget manager Bert Bigler said Friday.

"Hopefully, in the next week we'll have a detailed impact. We want to get to the board [of supervisors] with our budget adjustment recommendations as soon as we can."

Some of the areas that could be affected include Medi-Cal payments to doctors and other providers, mental health services to the poor, food stamp administration, child welfare services, adult protective services and adoptions, he said.

Whatever cuts are required come in addition to $17.6 million in reductions the county Board of Supervisors approved in June when it adopted a $1.2-billion budget for 2002-03.

Supervisors may have to tap into $10.3 million in tobacco settlement funds to cover revenue shortfalls, Bigler said.

In earlier budget talks, two citizen advisory committees urged supervisors to use the annual tobacco money to continue county health care programs created last year instead of using the money to plug holes in the budget. The programs range from dental clinics for poor children to payments for private hospitals that provide care for the uninsured.

State officials acknowledge the budget postpones tough decisions until after the Nov. 5 election. It authorizes Davis to cut $1 billion more during the fiscal year, which ends June 30. His aides have offered few specifics on how that will be done.

"The cities are avoiding a major impact this year because the governor and the Legislature want to avoid controversy until after the election," said Scott Mitnick, deputy city manager of Thousand Oaks. "But we've been down that path before--where we've been given false promises only to have the reality be much worse."

Thousand Oaks' Redevelopment Agency is likely to take the hardest hit, absorbing an estimated $500,000 loss that would affect the city's ability to finance and build affordable housing, Mitnick said.

"On the one hand, the state tells us they want cities like Thousand Oaks to build more affordable housing, but then there's a big chunk taken away," Mitnick said.

In Ventura, the effect on the city's general fund is likely to be minimal, at least for now, said Administrative Services Director Tom Gardner.

"Everybody sees that the budget is based on an upcoming election," he said.

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