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O.C. budget avoids worst cuts

The spending plan is 6.2% greater than last year's. New funding includes money for crime detection and prosecution.

June 27, 2007|Christian Berthelsen | Times Staff Writer

Despite a slowdown in tax revenue growth, Orange County supervisors adopted a $5.9-billion budget Tuesday for the coming fiscal year that avoided some of the steepest recommended cuts.

The budget represents a 6.2% increase over last year's spending. The largest share will go to community services, including healthcare and social services, followed by road maintenance, flood control, libraries, waste management, tidelands and other infrastructure and environmental needs.

Public safety received the third-largest share of the budget.

Among the biggest new outlays are 32 positions for the district attorney to expand high-tech crime prosecutions and for gang injunction efforts, and $1.5 million for the Sheriff's Department to expand its DNA analysis program.

The county is also adding 15 positions, at a cost of $1.12 million, to provide mental crisis-care nurses to female inmates, and will spend $1.4 million for 31 more case workers to handle adult and child protective care services.

There is also $1.5 million to make bathrooms in county libraries compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Nearly $100 million will be spent for improvements at John Wayne Airport, including parking and gate expansion and improved baggage handling.

And $44 million will be spent to increase the capacity of two county landfills.

Roughly $850,000 will be set aside to offset three years' worth of lost tax collections on boaters at Dana Point Harbor, money that essentially slipped through the cracks because of a bureaucratic mix-up.

Property taxes, which provide the bulk of the county's general fund revenue, are expected to grow less than 3% in the coming year as Orange County's housing market continues to cool. Last year, when the real estate market was still booming, property taxes grew 6.5%.

Sales tax revenue, another large municipal money-generator, is expected to grow only 2.5%, and revenue from vehicle license fees is expected to decline nearly 2%.

County budget planners had considered cutting several programs to prepare for the slowdown, including a popular counseling program for defendants in drug court and supplemental payments to doctors and hospitals that provide emergency medical care to the uninsured.

But in two days of hearings this month, supervisors restored $2 million in funding that covered most of the programs on the chopping block, including the drug counselors and part of the emergency care, while finding other places to cut.

One casualty of that process was a $500,000-per-year effort to encourage children to make more healthful eating choices.

The board also cut its $60,000 in funding for the county Film Commission and $137,000 from the county Human Relations Commission.

County officials expect there will be enough money left over in the budget to cover the rest of the vulnerable programs.

christian.berthelsen@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The cost of running a county

The Board of Supervisors approved a $5.9-billion budget for fiscal 2007-08, a 6.2% increase over last year's budget. The largest portion will go to community services such as health care and social services, and public protection costs will increase by $57.2 million to $1.28 billion.

Where the money goes

(By program)

Community services: 28.3%

Infrastructure, environmental resources: 23%

Public protection: 20.1%

Insurance, reserves, miscellaneous: 13.9%

Debt service: 7.8%

Capital improvements, general government services: 6.9%

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Other highlights

192 more jobs, including 32 for the district attorney to expand efforts against high-tech crime and gangs and 10 jobs for social services to handle increasing adult protective services cases

$98 million in improvements at John Wayne Airport, including baggage handling, gate expansion and parking

$1.5 million for the sheriff to expand DNA analysis

$1.5 million for restroom repair and Americans With Disabilities Act compliance at county libraries

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Total Orange County budget

(In billions)

'99-00: $3.85

'07-08: $5.9

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Source: Orange County Finance and Budget office

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