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Supervisors OK $1.2-Billion Plan

Ventura County budget includes the elimination of 267 jobs and limits safety funding increases to 3.75%. State proposal could force more cuts.

June 17, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors on Monday approved a $1.2-billion budget brought into balance by cutting 267 jobs and holding public safety funding increases to their lowest level in a decade.

The 2003-04 budget reflects an overall revenue increase of 6.3% over the previous year's funding.

But the county's costs have spiraled much higher, forcing the Board of Supervisors to approve about $17 million in job and service reductions. Most of the eliminated positions are vacant.

Supervisor Linda Parks, the board's newest member seated in January, made the sole dissenting vote. Parks asked the board to consider work furloughs or pay freezes to free up more money for public safety.

Parks said those moves would be more "proactive" in trying to bridge the gap between a 3.75% funding increase approved for the Sheriff's Department and the 17% hike that Sheriff Bob Brooks said he needs to prevent service cuts.

But the other supervisors said that public safety funding is adequate in light of the county's tight finances. The sheriff, district attorney, public defender and probation chief will each receive at least 3.75% budget increases in the coming year.

Even as they passed the county's spending plan, the supervisors warned that additional reductions may be necessary once the cash-strapped state passes its own budget.

"Stay tuned," said board Chairwoman Judy Mikels. "The sequel could be worse."

Several county managers outlined how this year's tight finances will play out for the public. The county elections chief, for instance, told supervisors that he will have to close some polling places and reduce staff.

Dist. Atty. Greg Totten said he must cut prosecutors' jobs, increasing caseloads for the remaining staff. The board's decision to rein in funding increases for public safety comes as the crime rate is beginning to climb, Totten said.

"At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I must tell you that your shift in public safety funding policy has harmed our ability to effectively prosecute cases and has jeopardized the safety of this community," Totten said.

Brooks said he is in the process of shutting down the Ojai honor farm and is considering closing the East County Jail.

Totten and Brooks have hired lawyers and are threatening to sue the Board of Supervisors for what they say is illegal underfunding of their departments.

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