County Expected to Adopt Fees to Balance Budget

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Board of Supervisors, struggling to balance Ventura County's 1990-91 budget without sharp cuts in services, is expected to endorse new fees today that will cost local cities and school districts millions of dollars a year.

Board members said they are trying to recoup as much as $6 million recently cut from their budget by the state and have little choice but to pass the burden to the county's 10 cities, 22 school districts and numerous special districts.

County budget analysts estimated Thursday that $5 million to $10 million could be raised by imposing fees on cities for prisoners from their jurisdictions booked in Ventura County Jail, and by charging cities, schools and districts for property tax collection.

Board Chairwoman Madge L. Schaefer, however, predicted a fight.

"Ten million? Is that before or after the lawsuit?" Schaefer asked. "There's a lot of paper money out there, play money. But the fact is that our program cuts are real and the money is not at this point."

Indeed, Mayor Alex Fiore of Thousand Oaks said Thursday that he sees the proposed fees as a way of "picking the cities' pockets" and that he plans to oppose them.

"The question is, how do we get bailed out?" Fiore said. "We have no back to balance our budget on."

Ken Prosser, director of business services for the county superintendent of schools, said local school and community college districts could absorb the about $3 million in fees charged to them.

"But it's just another cost that will cut into their ability to serve the kids," Prosser said.

The state Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian--when cutting $783 million from programs run by the counties during the past week--gave the counties authority to tax other local jurisdictions for services the counties now perform for free.

Most Ventura County supervisors said they will direct county lawyers today to draft ordinances establishing the fees, which would be formally adopted after a hearing in September.

"The cities aren't going to like this at all," Supervisor Maggie Erickson said. "The state has intentionally set it up so we have to fight among ourselves for this money."

Supervisors Schaefer, Erickson, Susan K. Lacey and John K. Flynn said they will reluctantly vote to impose the fees.

"We are very angry that the state chose to put us in this dilemma of either devastating our health and mental health programs or passing on these fees to make up some of the money," said Richard Wittenberg, the county's chief administrative officer.

County governments, which have complained for a decade about running state programs that are not fully reimbursed, consider the new $55-billion state budget as a continuation of that problem.

The new state budget includes cuts in Ventura County programs that analysts estimated could reach $8 million but now say are no more than $6 million. An anticipated $1.5-million reduction in court financing never materialized.

Hardest hit is the county's Health Care Agency, which lost $2.7 million. The Mental Health Agency has lost $1.5 million, children's probation services $600,000 and the public defender's office about $450,000.

The Board of Supervisors delayed approval of its budget Monday because final cuts by the governor had not been made. But the board expects to approve a spending plan today that will include $380 million for general fund services and about $300 million more for special districts such as fire, recreation and library services.

The county's struggle to balance its budget with new fees will force cities with tight budgets to make unanticipated cuts, officials said.

Camarillo City Manager William Little said his city had already lost $450,000 of its $1-million reserve to recent state cuts, and it now stands to lose much of the rest to county fees. The city has an $8-million general fund.

But Little said he sympathizes with the county.

"We understand the county's problems," he said. "Year after year they're required to provide services and told to do it within existing revenues. If I was the county, I would do exactly the same as they're doing."

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