A Rare Harmony Marks Adoption of County Budget

Times Staff Writer

Concluding their most harmonious budget hearings since 1980, the conservative-dominated Los Angeles County supervisors Wednesday unanimously adopted a $7.1-billion budget that funnels millions of extra dollars into social programs that once were routinely slashed.

A big surprise was a proposal by Supervisor Pete Schabarum to provide $6.1 million to help emotionally disturbed children at MacLaren Children's Center and at the county's juvenile facilities. The measure was adopted unanimously.

In sharp contrast to bitter deliberations that have characterized budget sessions since conservatives assumed control of the board in 1980, this year's sessions on the budget for fiscal 1986-87 that began July 1 moved so smoothly that final adoption came two days earlier than most officials had expected.

The atmosphere was one of accord amid light-hearted bantering, helped by general agreement among the five members on pet projects in their respective districts. Many of those projects--particularly those pushed by liberals Kenneth Hahn and Ed Edelman--had been routinely rejected in past years by the board's conservatives.

But the general good will surrounding the budget's adoption masks a serious situation. Although balanced, the adopted spending program sets aside only $3 million for emergencies. Chief Administrative Officer James C. Hankla had recommended a $20-million reserve.

Schabarum--who voted for the $3-million contingency--described it as "not even close to a fiscally responsible level." But the board chairman, noting that most of the budget is automatically earmarked for state-mandated programs, said Hankla's $20-million proposal "never had a chance."

The final budget--representing a .06% increase over last year--also does not take into consideration $29.1 million, vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian, that was intended to provide a cost-of-li1986621031low-income patients. Deukmejian, locked in a dispute with the Legislature, could eventually approve the funding after lawmakers reconvene Aug. 11.

The county, meanwhile, has scheduled hearings next month into proposed cuts to meet the possible shortfall.

Like most previous budgets adopted by the conservative majority since it was formed in December, 1980, this one's priorities are in the area of law enforcement and fire prevention. In past years, the conservatives targeted welfare, health and other social programs for reductions.

But this year witnessed a lessening of that trend. It began Tuesday, when the board voted 4 to 1 to increase the monthly general relief grant from $228 to $247 and ended Wednesday afternoon with a unanimous vote to provide $150,000 to give the welfare department more staff.

While the two votes provided only moderate shifts in policy, both Hahn and Edelman were elated by what they viewed as a movement by the conservatives to address social concerns. "For the f1769108340joined by three men (Schabarum, Mike Antonovich and Deane Dana). . . .The county is in need of unified leadership," said Edelman.

Earlier in the day, however, Edelman was clearly suspicious of Schabarum's motives when the board chairman proposed helping the emotionally disturbed youngsters at various county facilities. In fact, Edelman was so caught off guard by the move that he began debating the merits of it until fellow liberal Hahn jokingly cautioned him to take what he could get.

Later, Edelman--standing next to a smiling Schabarum--told reporters "It's nice to welcome Pete to our side." Last year, Edelman voted against the county's budget in bitter protest over the conservative majority's unwillingness to earmark enough funds for the Children's Services Department.

When someone suggested that perhaps Schabarum had become a "liberal," the conservative supervisor reacted in mock horror, "I would be shocked to be tainted with such a dastardly title."

Schabarum's plan sets aside $6.1 million for the Probation and Children's Services departments to develop programs for at least 180 mentally disturbed children. About 20 of the youngsters would come from the MacLaren Children's Center in El Monte and ultimately would be placed in foster care or group homes, said Robert Chaffee, head of the Children's Services Department.

Since last October, Chaffee said about 100 severely disturbed children have been placed outside MacLaren, but said there is an acute shortage of qualified homes to accept them. Chaffee said some of the money will probably be used to increase the amount foster parents receive for caring for disturbed children, now about $836 a month.

Chaffee added that other funds will be used to provide psychiatric and psychological counseling for the youngsters.

Probation Department chief Barry Nidorf said the children's project also will help relieve overcrowding of juvenile facilities that now house about 350 more youngsters than they were built to handle. As many as 160 youths who are now in juvenile hall could be placed in temporary shelters or group homes, Nidorf said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World