County Backs Merger Bill to Avoid Spending Squeeze

Times County Bureau Chief

Orange County supervisors voted Friday to press ahead with a proposal to merge the county Harbors, Beaches and Parks District into overall county government to get around a ceiling on spending.

At a meeting Friday of the county board's Legislative Planning Committee, the supervisors disagreed with the Harbors, Beaches and Parks Commission, which voted unanimously Wednesday night to oppose a merger authorization bill offered by state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach).

County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish said passage of the bill would not mean that the county would take money from beaches and harbors and use it on unrelated programs.

For several months there has been increasing concern in the county about the Gann limit, an initiative passed by California voters in 1979, which puts a ceiling on government spending based on a formula tied to inflation.

County officials said that in years of high inflation there was no problem because the limit kept rising. But with low inflation recently the limit may be reached next year.

The Harbors, Beaches and Parks District has a budget of $25 million this year and a reserve fund of $16.2 million to acquire and develop new property. The district is more than $50 million below its Gann limit, which would not be reached for several years, county officials said.

Bringing the district's finances into the county's general fund would increase the county's Gann limit, giving the county some breathing room while it decides whether to ask voters to raise the ceiling or to seek help from the state.

Bergeson's bill would also merge the Flood Control District into the county's general fund, but will have little practical effect because that district, with a $61-million budget this year, is close to its own Gann limit, officials said.

The matter will come before the supervisors at a subsequent regular session.

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