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County budget: Fewer positions, $415 million cut

April 20, 2009 | 10:15 am

Los Angeles County officials unveiled a $22.799-billion budget this morning, calling for $415 million less in spending than the previous fiscal year and 1,684 fewer positions, cuts they said they hoped to reach without layoffs.

The budget, which will be presented Tuesday to the county supervisors, preserves funding for a number of high-priority capital projects, including a new master plan for the county jails and an expansion of emergency services at Olive View Medical Center.

A projected $300.4-million budget shortfall -- caused by a drop in local revenues -- would be offset through $107.2 million in department cuts, $115.5 million in bridge funding and $77.7 million in federal stimulus funding.

Budget documents were posted on the county website at 8 a.m. The county’s chief executive, William T Fujioka, is scheduled to discuss the budget at an 11 a.m. news conference.

His budget manager, Ed Corser, said Friday: “We’re hoping to avoid layoffs. That’s our goal.”

The county earlier this year projected that property assessments could drop 3.3%, but final county revenue numbers are not due until the end of May, Corser said. Fujioka has said if the new estimate is correct, the Board of Supervisors would need to make an additional $88.3 million in cuts when budget adjustments are made in September.

The county continues to see other revenues decrease, with deed transfer taxes down 31.3%, sales taxes down about 6% and interest earnings down 56.8%. The proposed budget does not provide for that shortfall or address the $235 million in state budget cuts expected next fiscal year.

“This will be the first shoe to drop, and the other shoe will be what the state does to us,” Corser said of the proposed budget.

For the proposed budget, Fujioka asked most county departments to include a 5% cut in their departmental budgets. The larger staffing cuts were taken by social services, health services, public health, parks and recreation, child support services and the the registrar-recorder.

The proposed budget includes more staff for the Department of Children Services and the Department of Mental Health. The Museum of Art will receive an added $2 million, and the road fund for unincorporated areas will increase $41.1 million.

Under the proposed budget, funding for capital projects decreased by $289.9 million, to $1.4 billion, including:

    -- $493.1 million for public protection facilities, including a jail master plan, new construction at Biscailuz Center Training Academy, new fire stations in the Santa Clarita Valley, expansion of the coroner’s offices, security improvements at juvenile halls and camps, a new animal shelter in the east Antelope Valley and four new spay/neuter clinics.

    -- $214.6 million for recreational facilities, including new community rooms, renovated swimming pools and beach facilities.

   -- $161.4 million for general government facilities, most notably the new countywide data center in Downey.

    -- $155.3 million for health facilities, including a mental health urgent care center, expansion of emergency room and construction of tuberculosis unit at Olive View Medical Center, and replacement surgery and emergency suites at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

    -- $98.2 million for new or replacement libraries in the San Gabriel Valley, Topanga Canyon and East Rancho Dominguez, and refurbishment of Patriotic Hall.

    -- $106.4 million for infrastructure improvements in flood control and aviation facilities, soil and groundwater investigation and radiation activities, and watershed testing efforts.

Federal stimulus funding could provide the county with as much as $441.7 million through December 2010 for Medicaid, foster care and adoption payments. Another $89.1 million is expected for hospitals, highways, jobs, nutrition, community services and justice grants. But Corser said it remains unclear what effect that infusion of cash could have on the budget.

Supervisors and their deputies have participated in budget discussions, and Fujioka is scheduled to present them with the proposed budget at their board meeting Tuesday.

Public hearings on the proposed budget will begin May 13, with adoption expected June 22.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske