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L.A. County set to release budget today [UPDATED]

April 20, 2009 |  7:00 am

LacountysealUpdate 9:40 a.m.: The 2009-2010 proposed budget contains $22.799 billion in spending, more than $400 million less that the current budget. The new budget calls for nearly 1,700 fewer positions, a drop county officials said can be met by cutting positions that already are vacant. County officials note that local unemployment has gone up for 24 consecutive months, straining public aid resources. Although the budget cuts about $290 million in funding for capital projects, several high-priority would go forward under the proposal, including nearly $500 million for public safety projects including new fire stations and a master plan for the jails and more than $155 million for public health projects including the expansion of Olive View Medical Center's emergency room and improvements at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.

Los Angeles County officials are scheduled to unveil their proposed budget for the coming fiscal year this morning. The budget--expected to come in at about $22 billion--will tap reserves to offset decreased tax revenue and to prevent layoffs.

Budget documents will be posted on the county website at 8 a.m., three hours before the county’s chief executive, William T Fujioka is scheduled to speak at a news conference.

Fujioka declined to discuss the budget before its release. His budget manager, Ed Corser, said Friday that the new budget would be roughly the same as last year. Corser, speaking broadly, said it incorporates county departments’ 5% cut in services and supplies and extends the current hiring freeze for at least a year.

“We’re hoping to avoid layoffs,” he said. “That’s our goal.”

Under the proposed budget, the county will draw on “tens of millions” in reserves to cover an expected 1% drop in property tax revenue, Corser said. The county has at least $800 million in reserves, he said.
“It’s not like we’re draining the piggy bank to keep things afloat,” he said.

The county earlier this year projected that property, sales and other taxes could drop 3%, but final numbers are not due until the end of May. The budget does not provide for that, or address the $235 million in expected state cuts next fiscal year, Corser said.

“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.

It remains unclear how much federal stimulus money the county will receive and 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.

--Molly Hennessy-Fiske