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Orange County

County Finds a Surplus $40 Million

Funds come from increased property tax revenue, vehicle license fees and decreased spending.

August 27, 2003|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

At a time when state and local governments are awash in bad economic news, Orange County received a pleasant surprise Tuesday -- a $40-million bonus of sorts.

A financial review found $40 million more available in the general fund than predicted for late August when supervisors approved a budget in June, said Steve Dunivent, county budget manager.

The excess is due to several factors, including increased revenue from property taxes and vehicle license fees and decreased spending by several county departments, related in part to a hiring freeze, Dunivent said. He also said he usually offers a conservative estimate on the county's financial picture during budget discussions.

"We don't want to set a budget and come back to the board later and say we don't have enough money. They wouldn't like that," Dunivent said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 28, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Orange County budget -- An article in Wednesday's California section of the Orange County Edition about a $40-million surplus in the Orange County budget incorrectly referred to fiscal projections for late August. The projections were for June 30.

It's not uncommon for the county to find it has more money than the amount on which it bases its budget, but this year's surplus is unusually large. Last year, the built-in cushion resulted in a $20-million overage for the county, Dunivent said.

Supervisor Bill Campbell said he believes it's not necessarily a good sign that the county's estimates are off by tens of millions of dollars.

"That's a sizable change," he said. "My question is, am I going to be seeing a $40-million swing next year in the opposite direction?

Supervisor Jim Silva said he was pleased to learn the county has additional money in savings, but has no plans to spend it. Although he expects a number of requests for the money from county agencies, Silva said he believes the county should save it -- particularly in light of the debt remaining from the county's 1994 bankruptcy.

"Forty million will bring a lot of requests [for spending]. We'll probably get $300 million or $400 million in requests," he said. "We need to remember we're $900 million in debt and that the state budget problems will continue."

The county planned to spend $50 million of its savings during the current fiscal year, so even if the county pockets all $40 million it could still have a smaller savings balance than when it started the year.

"It will help us out quite a bit in terms of balancing, but it won't completely offset what we have to do this year," Dunivent said.

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