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Orange County

Sheriff, D.A. Get Boost in Budget Plan

But the $4.77-billion county spending outline seeks cuts in social services. Supervisors are expected to vote on the proposal June 24.

May 24, 2003|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's sheriff and district attorney appeared to be winners and its social services, health care and probation departments the losers in a proposed budget made public Friday.

The $4.77-billion county budget proposal includes funding to staff 192 new beds at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange and a $4.4-million supplement for the district attorney's office. Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas had threatened to cut 18 prosecutors and 17 investigators if he were not given a $5.4 million increase.

The proposed budget, however, calls on the health care, probation and social services agencies to cut more than $43 million in expenses.

"This budget situation is devastating for the delivery of services to needy clients," said Angelo Doti, director of the Social Services Agency.

"The issue we're facing here is the state failing to pay for the programs that they mandate us to carry out. So we have to look to Sacramento and ask them, 'What areas do you want us not to perform?' "

The Social Services Agency has been under a hiring freeze for a year.

It has 475 vacant positions and is struggling to provide some services, Doti said. He's considering cuts in child welfare and programs for needy families.

Despite the concern, Orange County's working budget is just 2.7% smaller than the 2002-03 fiscal year budget that expires June 30.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the new budget June 24.

"I don't think [the cuts are] as bad as they are probably elsewhere in the state," said Stephen Dunivent, the county's budget manager.

Dunivent noted that many services, such as the hours of service at the county libraries, will not be affected if the proposed budget is approved.

One of the losers, however, is the county probation department. It has been asked to make $10 million in cuts and lost a $2-million funding increase it said was needed to deal with the 4,000 drug cases it is monitoring as a result of Proposition 36, which called for counseling instead of jail for some drug offend- ers.

"We'll manage -- how effectively is a matter of opinion," said Walt Watanabe, director of the probation department's fiscal division.

The news was better for the Sheriff's Department, which would receive $2.57 million it requested to staff a recently completed addition of 192 beds at Theo Lacy.

"This is good news. We'd like to have more, but it keeps us ahead of the curve," said Asst. Sheriff Rocky Hewitt, who oversees the county's three jail facilities that house 5,300 inmates, the eighth-largest jail system in the country.

The grand jury recently issued a report that said Orange County's jail facilities are terribly overcrowded and that space needs to be doubled by 2010.

The county has been forced to be creative in its efforts to balance the budget.

The spending plan calls for tapping more than $29 million set aside several years ago to build a new courthouse in South County. Now, the county will borrow the money to build the courthouse.

Alan Slater, administrative officer of the county's court system, said he believes the county will follow through on its plans for the new courthouse.

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