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Orange County

County Agencies Plead for Funds

Hearings underway on $4.6-billion budget plan. Probation Department is hardest hit by cuts.

June 16, 2004|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

Orange County supervisors grudgingly trimmed funding requests from department heads Tuesday as they prepare to adopt a $4.6-billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, of which they have discretionary control over about $542 million.

Hardest hit was the Probation Department, which was told to expect less money than it sought for operational costs, forcing several probation officer positions to remain unfilled.

The budget hearings will continue today, followed by a final budget vote June 29. The bulk of the county's spending is earmarked for mandated state and federal programs, not all of which are fully funded by the larger governments.

About two dozen county agencies had asked to spend nearly $600 million in the coming fiscal year, which would have increased the budget significantly from the $558 million approved this year. Cost cutting from the state and other trims shrunk available funds to $541.7 million.

The only bright note for an audience of dispirited workers came during several straw votes, when the board approved restoring $2.9 million out of $12 million in lost state funding to the Probation Department. The supervisors also agreed to look for an additional $720,000 to pay for the cost of staffing 62 new beds already built at the Joplin Youth Center and Juvenile Hall.

The loss of state money for Probation Department expenses had meant the county would lose 188 of 804 beds for juvenile offenders unless general county funds were tapped. Board Chairman Tom Wilson and Supervisors Chuck Smith and Chris Norby voted to spend the money, saying reforming juvenile offenders in county programs saves jail costs later. Supervisors Bill Campbell and Jim Silva said the county couldn't afford to cover the shortfall.

Probation Chief Stephanie Lewis said the need will exist regardless of where the money is found. "If [the state funds] don't come in, I'm going to need beds," she said.

Lewis joined Sheriff Michael S. Carona, Public Defender Debbie Kwast and other elected and appointed department heads Tuesday in pleading their cases before supervisors. Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas was absent due to commitments outside the county, his office said.

Supervisors reviewed the two largest budgets in the county Tuesday -- $911 million for public safety, including the Sheriff's Department, district attorney's office and Probation Department; and $1.3 billion for community services, including the Social Services Agency, Health Care Agency and Child Support Services.

Carona said his budget represented a slight drop in county costs despite a $48-million jump in retirement costs and a $12-million increase in health insurance costs. Overall, the county's retirement costs surged by 30%, with health insurance up 9% and workers' compensation up 20%.

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