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O.C. board changes mind on budget cuts

Supervisors back away from proposed cuts in drug counselors and uninsured medical aid.

June 13, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Orange County supervisors on Tuesday backed away from some of the biggest proposed cuts in the county's budget for the coming year, saying they would rather try to find the money to pay for drug-court counselors and emergency doctors and hospitals who treat uninsured patients.

The board also voted to set aside $850,000 to cover three years' worth of lost tax collections from boaters at Dana Point Harbor. The county essentially forgot to collect taxes on boat slips and dry storage in the marina because of a bureaucratic oversight. For a time it considered making boaters pay the back taxes, but the appropriation means they will have to pay the assessment only beginning this year.

The decisions came on the first day of a two-day workshop to shape the $5.9-billion county budget for the coming year.

County tax revenue growth is slowing after years of robust proceeds from the booming real estate market, forcing officials to make tough choices about which projects deserve funding. Final approval is scheduled in two weeks.

County staff had proposed eliminating 16 drug-court counseling positions at a savings of $1.35 million. But the program boasts high success rates at reducing recidivism, and 20 public supporters -- including Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas -- urged the board to restore the funding. Supervisors said they would rather continue to fund it and make cuts elsewhere.

Staff had also proposed eliminating the $3.5-million annual funding for emergency medical care for the uninsured, after the board had agreed just this year to begin paying it. Supervisors balked at wiping it out entirely, saying they would continue to appropriate $1 million and try to find additional revenue.

One proposed program that fell victim to the conflicting priorities was a $500,000 annual effort to instill healthful eating habits in children.

Several supervisors questioned whether the county should be in the business of governing eating habits and whether the small appropriation would even make a dent in the problem. Supervisor John Moorlach compared it to intrusive "nanny state" legislation at the state level.

Another partial casualty was funding for the county's Human Relations Commission, a perennial target of budget cuts. Board members trimmed its proposed appropriation by $137,000, to $300,000, but struck a compromise by making it part of the base budget in future years and not subject to annual review. The agency gets most of its funding, more than $1 million, from the private sector.

christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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