Supervisors Expected to Delay Vote on Jail Fee Aimed at Cities

TIMES STAFF WRITER

County supervisors are expected to defer voting on a controversial jail booking fee today, even though failing to approve it soon could delay a plan to make the central courthouse safe in a major earthquake, officials said Tuesday.

Under the booking fee proposal, city police departments and other agencies would be charged $75.50 for each prisoner they brought to the county jail. The fee could produce approximately $2.1 million next year, officials estimate. Without that money, the county would have to cut programs and projects, some of which already are facing possible reductions.

A $1-million plan to reinforce the courthouse--set to begin this year--could be delayed at least until next year if the supervisors do not establish the booking fee, county officials said.

Also targeted for possible cuts are county mental health programs, which have already been hit by cuts in the state budget, and law enforcement services such as a crime-prevention unit and a county probation program. A plan to add sheriff's deputies to patrol South Orange County might also be postponed for several months, officials said.

Despite county staff support for the booking fee, Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder distributed a letter to her colleagues late Tuesday urging that a final decision be postponed for 90 days. That would give cities that object to the fee three months to respond and still leave the board time to approve the proposal before implementing the fees on Jan. 1, Wieder said.

If the board later votes to approve the fees, that money would be added back to the budget, officials said. If the board balks altogether, however, programs would have to be cut from this year's budget.

County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider would not comment on specific areas that would be subject to cuts, but said: "If the board does not approve the $2.1 million in new revenue, then we, in order to balance, would have to knock out some appropriations.

"We have to make up that money somewhere," he said.

Although they asked not to be identified, other county officials said three supervisors--Gaddi H. Vasquez, Roger R. Stanton and Wieder--are prepared to vote against levying the booking fee.

Supervisors Don R. Roth and Thomas F. Riley are said to support the fee.

With a close vote expected, both sides lobbied hard Tuesday. Supporters of the fee said the price of inaction would be even deeper cuts in programs, while opponents argued that the fees would damage relations between the county and the cities.

"As a former city council member and former mayor, I obviously have some empathy for what the impact on them might be," Stanton said. "I don't want to be in a position of kicking the dog."

The county administrative office has recommended that supervisors adopt the fee, and officials Tuesday released a copy of a report showing that California's 10 largest counties are planning to implement jail booking fees.

"The desire to implement (the fees) was unanimous among all 10 counties," states the report, which was circulated to the supervisors. Six counties are considering fees dramatically higher than the $75.50 that Orange County is proposing. In Los Angeles County, for instance, supervisors are debating fees between $165 and $200.

San Bernardino, Alameda, Riverside and Contra Costa counties are all preparing to adopt fees of $100 or more, the report indicates. Only San Francisco, where the county and city governments are joined, is considering a proposal lower than Orange County's.

In addition, a related county report disputes estimates by some local law enforcement agencies of the effects the booking fee would have on cities. Where some cities projected massive budget impacts, the county report indicates that the results, though severe, would be somewhat more muted.

In Santa Ana, for instance, city officials predict the loss of as much as $1.6 million a year if the fee is implemented. The county report estimates the impact there at $954,000.

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