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County Supervisors Spare Libraries, Lifeguards, Probation Camp

June 24, 2003|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles County libraries, lifeguards and a probation camp won amnesty from budget cuts Monday as county supervisors rescued favored programs from the chopping block -- for now.

The Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office were not so fortunate. Despite Supervisor Don Knabe's efforts to restore about $11 million for community policing and the prosecution of sex crimes and domestic violence, a majority of supervisors voted no.

It was the final budget hearing of the fiscal year, time to settle the books and make last-minute adjustments to the county's 2003-04 budget, which begins July 1.

Lawmakers churned out a flash flood of motions during the hectic three-hour session. Aides scurried to and fro, passing out copies of the latest amendment, as everyone tried to keep up.

Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who chaired the meeting, repeatedly tried to hush people chatting on the sidelines, even telling the fire chief to move his conversation into the hall.

In the end, lawmakers approved a $16.9-billion spending plan that erases nearly 2,000 jobs, mostly by eliminating vacant positions and dismissing employees in the health and child support services departments. The plan also leaves the county with limited reserves to cover unexpected costs.

Still, supervisors managed to tuck nearly $17 million back into departments slated to be cut. Supervisor Gloria Molina went to bat for the libraries, and Mike Antonovich took up the flag for Camp Glen Rockey, a San Dimas home for juvenile delinquents.

"We think it's wonderful," said Judy Hist, a librarian at the Newhall branch, one of 15 county libraries that would have closed without fresh funding.

Some mental health programs, coroner's services, and Castaic Lake and Placerita Canyon Park also were spared. The board approved a 5% cut to its own budget to provide funds for beach lifeguards.

The relief may be only temporary. With California facing a monumental budget hole, the county is likely to endure further cuts in state funding this fall. Recognizing that, the board approved a proposal by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to freeze the $17 million in new spending in October.

The county's final budget was slightly fatter than the one proposed in April, largely because unspent money earmarked for specific projects can now be rolled into the coming year.

Even so, ringing in the financial new year was hardly festive. At times, the confusion over what pot of cash was being tapped left millions of dollars hanging in the balance.

When supervisors saw that the county's costs for foster care had soared, for example, they summoned department brass to explain. "Why is the net county cost for this program doubling?" Yaroslavsky demanded.

A description of federal funding formulas, with plenty of numbers and acronyms, followed. "You lost me," Molina said as Burke furrowed her brow and Yaroslavsky shook his head.

Unsatisfied, the lawmakers withheld approval for $11 million in new county funding until they get a report detailing the loss of federal money.

By the time Burke opened the floor to public comment, most of the public was long gone.

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