The jury is still out on the impact of the state's decision to dump certain criminals into the county's lap, according to Orange County 5th District Supervisor Pat Bates.
About 3,500 nominally nonviolent felons will be transferred to the county's jurisdiction, to be jailed or put on probation, Bates said in her recent State of the County report to Laguna Canyon Conservancy.
The state presumably will compensate the county.
"We are supposed to get $26,000, but we all know the state doesn't always come through with its promises," said Bates, who's now in her second and final term as a supervisor.
Under Assembly Bill 109, two types of offender populations will be transferred to county jurisdiction. Potentially, 1,970 felons could be released for supervision by the county probation department, under home detention with electronic or GPS monitoring, Bates reported.
"They are called non-non-nons or N3s, as they have been incarcerated for nonviolent, nonserious and non-high-risk sex offender crimes," Bates said.
Another 1,464 convicted criminals will be sentenced to county jail, rather than state prison. This group will have committed no current or prior violent, serious or "registrable" sex offenses, Bates said.
"The Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office are comfortable that the county will be able to manage this, but it is something to keep your eyes on," she said.
All in all, the county is doing pretty well, coping with the economy better than some other governments, including the federal and state levels, according to Bates' report.
However, it has taken some severe pruning to trim the county budget.
"We have continued cost-cutting measures over the last four years, which include a hiring freeze, deferring capital projects and deletion of non-essential positions," Bates said.
Annual department cuts of 5% starting in fiscal year 2008-09 have resulted in a $1.3-billion reduction in expenditures.
"By succeeding with our cost-cutting mandates, the county has demonstrated that government can operate with less, yet deliver quality services taxpayers have paid for," Bates said. "There is evidence to prove this as the county just received a national award from the American Planning Assn. for the reorganization of our planning department and delivery of improved service to the public."
Further proof: Credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's gave the county the highest short-term ratings, Bates announced.
All of this was done while the state continues to wallow in an economic quagmire.
"The biggest threat to the county's financial health remains our state government and its inability to balance its budget by cutting spending levels," Bates said.
State revenues have dropped, but spending hasn't, she said.
"The state spends a lot more time arguing about raising taxes instead of balancing declining revenue with expenses," said Bates, who served two terms in the state Legislature. "When all attempts for a tax increase ballot measure failed, local government became the solution."
Bates will be termed out of office in 2014.
"On up days, I say I've got three more years," said Bates, who began her political career on the Laguna Niguel City Council. "On bad days, I say only 34 months to go."
Asked if she would consider running for federal office, Bates said the cost is daunting and not something one goes into lightly. But she didn't close the door.