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Bigger County Budget OKd

Sheriff's and health departments are the chief beneficiaries of a $17.3-billion spending plan fattened by the economic upswing.

June 22, 2004|Sue Fox | Times Staff Writer

Buoyed by an upturn in the economy, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Monday approved a budget for next fiscal year that slightly boosts spending on health and public safety.

The Department of Health Services and the Sheriff's Department, two agencies battered by budget cuts in recent years, were the biggest winners as supervisors approved a $17.3-billion plan that is $185 million higher than the current budget.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky persuaded his colleagues to earmark $7.5 million to improve jailhouse security after five inmate slayings.

"We have a crisis in our jails," he said. "For the sheriff to address it, we've got to take a little bit of the pressure off him."

After a four-hour whirlwind of motions and amendments, the Sheriff's Department had $40 million in increased funding, and Health Services had reaped $57.5 million more.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 23, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
Budget cuts -- An article in Tuesday's California section incorrectly stated that Los Angeles County spared more than $44 million in mental health programs from budget cuts. Only $14 million in programs was saved; the Department of Mental Health must still cut $30.6 million in programs that provide medication, hospital beds, day treatment and other services for people without health insurance.

Instead of futile fights to save doomed programs, the annual budget hearing was marked by cordial votes that were often unanimous, as supervisors doled money to programs that had been slated for cuts.

Supervisors not only spurned a proposed $8.8-million cut for the county's 84 libraries, they gave the libraries an additional $2.4 million.

Also saved were jobs for 23 prosecutors in the district attorney's office and 13 Parks and Recreation Department workers.

More than $44 million in mental health programs for poor people was spared, while federal grants provided $16.9 million for homeland security projects.

After two years of painful cuts, including the closure of two jails and 16 health clinics, the county's fiscal discipline appears to be paying off. A recent report from Moody's Investors Service praised "the county's stable financial position."

"It's clear they respected the way we managed the budget and the cuts we made," said Supervisor Don Knabe, who met with the bond analysts.

"Even with Democrats on the board, this can be done," joked Gloria Molina, part of the board's Democratic majority.

The 2004-05 budget, which takes effect July 1, represents about a 1% increase in spending. The unexpected cash flowed from a variety of sources, mainly a series of federal and state grants, a minor increase in car tax proceeds and $40 million in property taxes due to the county's hot real estate market.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich cast the lone vote against the budget, protesting his colleagues' rejection of his proposed $1-million increase for a program that confiscates guns from parolees.

Despite that clash, the supervisors seemed to relish restoring cash to beleaguered programs.

For the Sheriff's Department, they allocated $5 million to help suppress gang crime in unincorporated areas. They also approved $27.5 million to offset increases in workers' compensation and other employee costs that have stretched the department. "We're incredibly grateful and very excited," said Chief Paul Tanaka, who oversees the sheriff's budget. "This will now allow us to begin hiring deputy sheriffs once again."

The department, whose training academy graduated only one class of 65 deputies in the last two years, hopes to hire 500 deputies, Tanaka said.

Supervisors also approved $500,000 for homeless shelters that operate during the winter months; $790,000 for a reading program run by the probation department; $735,000 to pay for 15 lifeguards at Castaic Lake north of Santa Clarita; and an additional $552,000 for lifeguards who patrol county beaches.

"It's more fun when we're giving money away," said Brence Culp, Yaroslavsky's budget deputy.

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