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Board Freezes Pay of Workers, Officials : Economy: The supervisors cite continuing hard times in blocking cost-of-living increases. Four county agencies ask to be spared from 5% budget cuts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anticipating tough economic times, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors agreed Monday to block cost-of-living increases for all employees and to prohibit raises for managers and elected officials for a year.

The action, approved on a unanimous straw vote, came as the supervisors began hearings to erase a $13.6-million deficit for the fiscal year that began July 1. The supervisors are expected to adopt the final budget today.

The measure to shelve pay raises for a year was proposed by Supervisors John K. Flynn and Vicky Howard, members of the board’s budget subcommittee. Flynn said the move is needed to prepare for continuing economic hard times.

“We have to be prepared for next year, and I think that means taking some tough budget cuts this year,” he said. The action will save the county about $5 million during the year, he said.

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But Barry L. Hammitt, executive director of the Public Employees Assn. of Ventura County, said in an interview that many of the county’s 6,700 employees will quit if the supervisors allow no cost-of-living raises.

“Those who can, will start to look for work elsewhere,” he said. “Those out of work will look at the county last.”

Hammitt said he expects pay raises to be debated in December, when the county renegotiates contracts with the association’s 4,200 members and with a union representing the county’s 170 engineers. In the spring, the supervisors must negotiate a new contract with a union that represents the county’s 400 firefighters, he said.

Flynn dismissed Hammitt’s concerns, saying most employees understand the severity of the county’s budget problems and will not protest too much over the elimination of cost-of-living increases.

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Flynn predicted tougher economic times because of a continuing decline in construction and an increase in unemployment.

The freezing of salaries was part of a nine-point plan tentatively approved by the board Monday. The plan would:

* Reduce reimbursement for managers who use their own cars from 31 cents a mile to the federal rate of 27 cents;

* Cut funding for a ride-share program by about 17%, saving the county $47,700;

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* Cut funding for a program that encourages employees to remain healthy by about 33%, saving $50,000;

* Require employees who participate in a county-paid career advancement program to commit to work for the county for at least four years, instead of one;

* Replace county vehicles after 120,000 miles instead of 100,000, except for law enforcement patrol cars, which would be replaced after 100,000 miles instead of 80,000.

The board also backed a recommendation to consider closing the Hickory Dickory Dock child-care program because it has attracted only a few county employees.

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The preliminary 1991-92 spending plan, which was approved by the supervisors last month, calls for 5% across-the-board cuts to balance the county’s $729-million budget. The reductions would eliminate 123 positions, 59 of which are vacant, county officials said.

However, the supervisors set aside $8.3 million in a special fund to spare top-priority departments from the full 5% cut.

On Monday, representatives of the Sheriff’s Department, the public defenders’ office, the district attorney’s office and the Corrections Services Agency urged the supervisors to consider smaller cuts. A majority of the supervisors have said in interviews that they will probably spare the four agencies from full cuts.

Sheriff John V. Gillespie said he could retain his entire staff and keep all his operations going if the supervisors adopt only a 3.2% cut.

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The full 5% cuts would require Gillespie to eliminate 49 positions, including 29 jobs for officers, and to close such facilities as the Rose Valley Work Camp and the East Valley Station.

The sheriff said the county can allow the smaller cut because $1.5 million was left over from the Sheriff’s Department fund for overtime and mileage.

Public Defender Kenneth I. Clayman told the board that his department can absorb a 2.5% cut by eliminating an investigative assistant and an office assistant and by filling a senior attorney’s position with a law clerk.

Under a 5% cut, the public defender’s office would lose two attorneys, an investigator and an office assistant.

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Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury told the supervisors that his department could absorb a 3% cut without severe service reductions. Such a cut would mean eliminating two prosecutors and an assistant from his misdemeanors unit, compared to the 11 lawyers who would be laid off under a 5% reduction, he said.

He said the 3% cut would probably force him to not prosecute some lesser crimes.

Bradbury was guaranteed an additional $500,000 last week, when the supervisors voted to increase car registration fees by $1 to pay the salaries of a team of lawyers to prosecute car thieves.

F. William Forden, Corrections Services Agency director, also suggested that his department take a 3% cut, which would force him to eliminate eight positions and allow him to keep seven probation officers who supervise juveniles in private, out-of-county institutions. That program had been funded by the state, but the money was eliminated last year.

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The 5% cut would have cost Forden 16 positions and eliminated the out-of-county juvenile supervision.


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