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Fiscal news for county is mixed

Higher labor costs could help create a $4-million gap in the 2007-08 budget, but jobs appear to be safe, the Board of Supervisors is told.

March 14, 2007|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Rising labor costs could leave Ventura County government with a slight budget gap in the coming fiscal year, but it's not likely to require layoffs or a hiring freeze, County Executive Officer Johnny Johnston said Tuesday.

Employee costs, including still rising health and pension benefits, are growing about 10% a year.

Meanwhile, property and sales taxes are expected to level off after years of steady growth, Johnston said.

The Ventura County real estate market has cooled considerably and foreclosures are reaching levels not seen since the early 1990s. That could affect money available for the 2007-08 fiscal year that begins in July, Johnston told the Board of Supervisors.

He projected a $4-million shortfall unless department managers take steps now to close the gap.

"With the stagnation we are starting to see in certain parts of the economy, this is an optimistic picture," Johnston told supervisors during a report on the county's $838-million general fund.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday granted managers' requests for some mid-year budget adjustments, including $6 million to pay for higher salaries for sheriff's deputies and $1.2 million for a salary increase for sheriff's dispatchers.

The board also approved creation of an $800,000-a-year gang unit and $7 million to keep Ventura County Medical Center running.

Higher than expected tax revenue for the current fiscal year allowed the county to tuck $5 million into reserves, Johnston said. The Board of Supervisors has about 7.5% of the county's general fund set aside for emergencies, half of its 15% goal.

Overall, the county's fiscal health has improved considerably since 2001, when major layoffs and a hiring freeze were necessary to bring costs under control, Johnston said.

"We're growing. But just not as fast," he told the supervisors.

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catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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