$9.6-Billion County Budget Gets Quick OK

Times Staff Writer

With record speed, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted a $9.6-billion budget Thursday after taking away cost-of-living increases from welfare recipients and using the money to temporarily keep open five mental health clinics.

Supervisors voted to delay the threatened shutdown of the clinics and a reduction of outpatient services at county hospitals until Oct. 1 in the hope that the state will provide funding to continue the services for the remainder of the fiscal year.

"This budget is going to keep health and mental health going for another 90 days," said board Chairman Ed Edelman. "It's a message to the governor and the Legislature, please get together and come to the rescue of L.A. County."

The board approved the record spending plan after setting aside a $2.5-million fund, to be divided equally among the five supervisors for their pet projects. The budget is up 4 1/2% over last year's.

Quickest in Memory

Supervisor Kenneth Hahn said it was the quickest approval of a budget he has seen in his 37 years on the board.

In less than 4 1/2 hours, supervisors spent all $10 million in uncommitted funds. The money went for such things as beach maintenance, staffing at county parks and an agricultural inspector to keep a look-out for killer bees.

With a member of Chief Administrative Officer Richard B. Dixon's staff writing down the figures on a blackboard, the supervisors handed out the money.

The biggest chunk, $4 million, went to keep open seven public health centers and to continue ambulatory care at eight health clinics through the end of the fiscal year.

No Money for Raises

The budget does not include any money for employee raises once union contracts for about 80,000 works expire Sept. 30, signaling possible labor strife for the county.

"That's unacceptable to us," said Jerry Hall, president of the Social Services Union, which represents 2,400 county social workers. The union has threatened to strike Oct. 1 unless the supervisors place a limit on social workers' caseloads.

Dixon said he expects employees to receive raises, but he added that "labor and management will have to identify productivity improvements and other economies (during bargaining sessions) to generate the money. . . . To put it crassly, if you have a crew of 10 guys doing this job and you want a 10% increase, you've got to figure a way that nine people can do the job."

In one of the few disagreements of the day, the board voted 3 to 2 to cancel a 3.2% cost-of-living increase for the county's 50,000 general relief recipients to provide money to avert the threatened closure of five mental health clinics.

Voting along ideological lines, the conservative majority argued that the $312-a-month stipend that Los Angeles County provides to mostly homeless people is higher than the state average. Edelman, voting with Hahn against canceling the increases, said, "The cost-of-living increases give people a chance to live without being on the street. It's going to impact further on the homeless problem."

Roberto Quiroz, county mental health director, said his department needs $8.8 million to continue operating five mental health centers beyond Oct. 1 and to prevent reductions in funding to privately operated clinics.

Needs $10 Million More

"Even if the state came through with $8.8 million, it would only serve to prevent further cuts from taking place," he said. He said his department needs $10 million, in addition to the $8.8 million, to restore programs cut last year.

Quiroz pointed out that the governor cut $22 million out of the state budget that would have come to Los Angeles County for mental health care. Asked about the prospects of the county receiving more money from Sacramento, Quiroz said, "Everything we hear is promising."

Dixon described the budget as "precarious," noting that it is based on an assumption that the county will receive $119 million from tobacco taxes that have yet to be allocated by the Legislature.

The supervisors contended that the state is to blame for their budgetary woes by requiring the county to run the courts, jails, hospitals for the poor and mental health clinics without providing adequate funding.

"The governor chose for whatever reason to keep a rainy day fund in Sacramento," Edelman said, referring to Gov. George Deukmejian's vetoes of additional aid to the county in order to maintain a $1-billion reserve fund. "That rainy day (fund) is depriving needy people of health care here in Los Angeles."

Funds for Jails, Courts

The 2-inch-thick budget document provides increased funding to relieve jail overcrowding and court congestion. That reflects the strong law enforcement priorities that have characterized the board's conservative majority of Mike Antonovich, Deane Dana and Pete Schabarum over the last nine years.

Asked if he expects the state to bail out the county, Schabarum said, "I'm not optimistic."

"If they don't give us a hand, we can't do anything about it," he said.

Although the county received a share of the $2.5-billion state windfall, it was not enough to prevent cuts, county officials said.

Supervisors provided funds to continue operations of job-training programs in East and South Los Angeles. But welfare director Eddy Tanaka said he will still probably have to close two welfare offices because of a budget shortfall.


Here are the highlights of Los Angeles County's new $9.6-billion budget:

* COURTS--$250 million and $192 million for the Municipal and Superior courts, respectively. Increases will be used to reduce congestion through the completion of new Municipal Courts in Downey and East Los Angeles and hiring of 14 more Superior Court judges and 8 more Municipal Court judges.

* SHERIFF--Some of $822-million budget will be used to relieve crowded county jails by providing for the opening of the 2,100-bed North County Correctional Facility in Saugus in December and ground-breaking in February for a 1,000-bed jail at the Lynwood Justice Regional Center. Seventeen more deputies will be hired to patrol unincorporated areas, 20 more to expand the sheriff's drug education program.

* PROBATION--Four new probation camps in Lancaster will be opened, bringing the total countywide to 19 and reducing the number of juveniles sleeping on mattresses on the floors in Juvenile Hall.

* HEALTH--$1.9 billion will ensure continued health services at current levels, though outpatient services at county hospitals would be reduced Oct. 1 unless the state provides additional aid to the county.

* MENTAL HEALTH--Five clinics face closure and a dozen privately operated clinics face funding cutbacks Oct. 1 unless the state provides $8.8 million to the county.

* WELFARE--No cost-of-living increase is provided to 50,000 general relief recipients, most of whom are single homeless people.

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