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S.B. County Plans Job Cuts, Fee Hikes

The $2.6-billion budget, 1.4% higher than last year's, may be OKd next week. State cutbacks are blamed in part for 1,500 jobs that would be lost.

June 17, 2003|Hugo Martin | Times Staff Writer

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors today is scheduled to consider approval of a $2.6-billion budget that increases spending slightly but cuts more than 1,500 county jobs and adds several new fees for county services.

Counties have had difficulty balancing budgets this year because sharp funding cuts are expected as state lawmakers wrestle with a $38-billion budget shortfall. Because the state has yet to adopt its budget, county officials are left to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

"Our budget is difficult because of the potential state impact in the next fiscal year," said County Supervisor Fred Aguiar. "Also, because of a slowdown of the economy, we are being very conservative."

San Bernardino County's budget is expected to grow by $36 million, or 1.4%. But county officials said the increase in spending is due mostly to current labor contracts that call for higher salaries and more expensive benefits and retirement plans.

Supervisors are scheduled to hold a public hearing on the budget today, but will hold off formal adoption until June 24.

The budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 predicts a small increase in property taxes and vehicle license fees, which generate most of the county's local revenue.

But the county also expects a cut of about $16 million in state and federal funding for several county programs.

Despite the proposed budget increase, the number of county employees will shrink by more than 1,500.

Of those eliminated positions, 190 employees will be laid off. The rest of the cuts are positions already vacant or which will be eliminated through attrition or retirement.

The largest staff cuts will be in the Department of Human Services, particularly in programs that help residents find jobs, collect child support and move off welfare and other public subsidies. County officials blame those job losses on anticipated state funding cuts and growing salary and benefit costs.

"The county layoffs are directly related to cuts made by the state," said San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert. "The county did not reduce the funding; the state did."

Under the proposed budget, the district attorney's office will add 13 employees to its criminal prosecution unit while the public defender's office will lose six positions. The Sheriff's Department is also expected to lose 20 positions under the proposed budget.

The Board of Supervisors rejected a staff proposal to increase fees for land use services, such as building and planning documents and code enforcement inspections. Aguiar said supervisors opposed the increases because they worried that higher costs would discourage development.

County officials have included other fee increases in the budget, including boosting the adult admission fee to the county museum from $4 to $6. Children's admission would also increase from $2 to $4.

Under the budget proposal, the county library will increase fees for overdue library books and videos from 25 cents to 50 cents per day.

The county's Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures has also proposed increasing fees to inspect and certify farmers markets, aviaries and supermarket scanners, among other services, by as much as $65.

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