Supervisors Adopt Bare-Bones Tentative Budget of $1.7 Billion

Times County Bureau Chief

The Orange County Board of Supervisors tentatively adopted a bare-bones, $1.7-billion budget Wednesday for the fiscal year starting July 1, which includes no money for raises and would require substantial layoffs of county workers.

After budget hearings that are to begin July 29, the board will vote on a final version of the county spending plan. State law requires adoption of the tentative budget before the new fiscal year begins.

Budget analyst Richard L. Pickryl said Wednesday that the figures still are in flux. He said the numbers approved by the board are 6% lower than funding requests submitted by county agencies and departments earlier this year but do not include further proposed cuts for individual agencies, which range up to 18%.

County Administrative Officer Larry Parrish told supervisors Wednesday that the budget document before them represented a "snapshot in time."

The hearings next month will give county department heads and the public a chance to try persuading the supervisors to restore funds deleted from various programs, but further cuts are also possible.

The budget document, hastily printed and in such limited supply that each supervisor's office was given just one copy, broadly groups the categories of spending that Parrish's office recommended to the supervisors.

A total of $425.6 million is provided for the catchall category of "public protection," which includes funds for the Sheriff's Department, the courts, the district attorney's office, the public defender's office, the county Fire Department, the jail and the Probation Department. That figure is up from an estimated $403 million in fiscal 1986-87 and includes $40 million to start building new jails or expand existing ones.

The category of "public assistance" totals $233.8 million, an increase from this fiscal year's estimated $220 million. It includes increases in various welfare programs.

The budget provides $208 million for building a new terminal and other improvements at John Wayne Airport. The money comes from a special airport enterprise fund funded through sales of revenue bonds guaranteed by the airlines using the airport. Additional money for the airport brings the total outlay for John Wayne in the tentative 1987-88 budget to more than $240 million.

The latest budget figures call for layoffs of 92 Social Service Agency workers, 28 Health Care Agency staff members and 68 Probation Department employees.

"As money becomes available, we are recommending improvements in those areas," Parrish said. He told the supervisors that the county hopes to get an additional $5 million or more from the state before the budget is finally adopted.

Excluding the airport construction money, the total budget approved Wednesday is about even with this year's, in which spending totaled about $1.5 billion.

However, spending levels are up by $22 million for public protection, nearly $6 million for roads, $13 million for public assistance and $2.5 million for libraries. Another $40 million is scheduled to be spent on jails.

Revenue from sources that include taxes, licensing fees and state and federal funding is expected to increase by just $50 million, however. Federal revenue-sharing has ended, drying up a significant source of funds in the past.

The budget crunch has been expected since county department heads were told earlier this year that county agencies and departments had spent more than expected in the current fiscal year. That leaves the county with a carry-over fund of revenue from fiscal 1986-87, which is millions of dollars below the totals of past years.

County officials have also complained that some health and welfare programs that the state requires the county to operate are not fully funded by the state. In some cases, they have said, the state supplies just 70% of what is needed to run a program and the county must come up with the rest.

Parrish said the budget contains no salary increases for workers "at all levels of the county," a no-raise policy that he said was undertaken "with a great deal of regret and with some trepidation."

The proposed general-fund expenditures, which at $833 million are $25 million lower than this year's, contains no money for new capital projects, he said.

Construction projects planned by the flood-control district and airport officials are being funded from special funds designated for specific uses. Under state law, money from those funds cannot be used for other purposes.

By law, the budget must balance, with proposed spending matching the county's anticipated revenue from taxes, state and federal grants, user fees and other sources.

The extra money required for jails and the shortage in the carry-over fund have caused those preparing the budget to scramble to find programs and positions that can be cut.

Parrish said county employees appear to understand that the county is not crying wolf and does not have "pots of money" squirreled away.

"This is the reality that we in county government face all over the state with the limitations on our general-fund revenues," he said. "The picture for the future is not much brighter."

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