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Supervisors OK Fee on City Prisoners Sent to County Jail

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After twice ducking the issue, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a fee for booking prisoners into the county jail system Wednesday, ending debate on a matter that has pitted the board against local cities for months.

Under the newly enacted proposal, cities and school district security forces on July 1 will begin paying $154 for each of the roughly 50,000 prisoners they book into county jails each year. Some cities have warned that the fee could cost them millions of dollars yearly.

The possible result, they say: Some cities could see sharp cuts in police, fire and parks and recreation services, among others. Hardest hit could be police, and some city officials have predicted a crisis in county law enforcement as a result.

“Sixty-seven percent of our expenditures are for public safety,” Westminster Mayor Charles V. Smith told the board. “That’s what’s going to be hit the hardest.”

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The supervisors, however, are facing a dire shortfall in their budget, largely because of huge cuts handed down by the state last year. The booking fee was approved by the Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian as a way of letting counties recoup some of the money lost in last summer’s budget negotiations in Sacramento.

“My back is against the wall,” Board Chairman Don R. Roth said in Wednesday’s session. “I have no more room to give you any more days.”

Despite their own red ink, the supervisors did agree to delay implementation of the fees, which originally had been scheduled to go into effect this week. As a result, board members said, Orange County will be the last in the state to put it into effect.

City leaders welcomed that delay. Nevertheless, they clashed with supervisors during the session, as board members bristled at the cities’ continuing objections to the fee.

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Indeed, Wednesday’s acrimony reflected the extent to which both the board and the cities remain dissatisfied with the outcome of their booking fee debate. Board members had hoped that by the county’s delaying implementation, the cities would retreat from their opposition. City representatives had tried to derail the fee altogether by emphasizing that cities and the county are both being victimized by the state.

Instead, the cities will get the fee they opposed, albeit late. And the board sacrificed $2.1 million in this year’s budget--forcing cancellation of several projects, including an earthquake safety retrofit at the County Courthouse--because it declined to implement the fee on Jan. 1.

In return, however, the board does not appear to have won much goodwill from the cities.

That frustration was evident Wednesday as both sides proclaimed their final positions in a debate that produced its share of sparks. In his opening remarks, for instance, Los Alamitos Mayor ProTem Ronald Bates infuriated board members by comparing the implementation of the booking fee to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

“The juncture we find ourselves at today is not unlike our current international crisis,” Bates told the supervisors. “The county and the cities also face a great crossroads today. We can decide today to work together . . . or we can succumb to the predatory zeal of those who would drive stakes between us.”

Supervisors were dumbfounded.

“I don’t like the analogy,” Supervisor Roger R. Stanton said, shaking his head in amazement. “We didn’t take your oil fields.”

“You’re going to take our money,” Bates retorted.

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Later, as tempers cooled, city officials tried to stress their gratitude for the postponement of the fee’s implementation and said they would try to persuade the Legislature to repeal the booking fee legislation between now and July 1.

“We have to try to take advantage of this opportunity to have the enabling legislation repealed,” Santa Ana City Manager David N. Ream said after the meeting.


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