Ventura County department heads may have to cut their already stripped-down budgets for next fiscal year by another 2.5% to 5% if a recommendation by two Ventura County supervisors is approved by the full board on Tuesday.
Supervisors Vicki Howard and Maria VanderKolk, who sit on the board's budget committee, are also recommending that the hiring freeze imposed last December be tightened. Under the new proposal, every position filled would require approval from the chief administrative officer. Since December, department heads have had the discretion to fill positions to protect health and safety or for other approved reasons.
Howard said the supervisors are not requesting layoffs at this point, but she said it will be up to the department heads to decide where to make their budget cuts. "That's a choice they have to make," she said.
The county may also opt to close its offices from Christmas to New Year's Day, putting its estimated 6,200 employees on unpaid leave for the week.
The latest round of cuts, which would be the fourth in three annual budgets, is needed because of the ongoing recession that has cut both state and local funding for Ventura and counties statewide. The county could face a $10-million budget deficit in a $400-million budget for fiscal year 1992-93, VanderKolk said. But because the county made previous budget cuts, it is in much better shape than other counties around the state, she said.
The state, which supplies about 40% of the county's revenue, is facing a deficit of $9 billion to $10 billion, county officials said. But officials could not predict how much the state might cut from the county's revenue.
"We just have to wait and see what the state does," VanderKolk said. "We are scrambling to look for any budget cuts we can to help make up the deficit in the short term."
VanderKolk said the county is also looking for long-term reductions in spending, such as departmental reorganizations and elimination of programs not required by the state.
"We are looking at an additional $12 million in operating costs when the new jail is constructed," she said of the county facility expected to be built near Santa Paula by late 1994. "That's a big concern to all of us."
Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said Friday that he will not submit the budget cuts if they are requested.
"We've already lost eight lawyers, and thousands of misdemeanor cases have not been filed as a result," he said. "I just can't bring myself to cut prosecutions of drunk drivers."
If the cuts are approved on Tuesday and Bradbury's department is not exempted, he said the board will have to decide what he should not prosecute. Instead of cutting all departments' budgets, the board should set priorities, sparing essential services and eliminating others that are less critical.
"I guess that makes me not a team player," he said. "But this isn't a game."
The county's budgets were cut by 3% during the 1990-91 fiscal year, by 5% and then an additional 2% in 1991-92. During non-recessionary years, department heads normally come to the board with requests to increase their budgets by 2% to 4%, said Bert Bigler, the county's budget manager.
"Not only have we had those reductions, but we have not had any inflationary increases," Bigler said. The new round of cuts, he said, "will put all of our departments in tough-choice situations. But I think they've had a good indication that this was coming."
Sheriff John V. Gillespie said his department could make the cuts, but only with "an extremely detrimental effect on our ability to do our job." Gillespie said the department is receiving conflicting signals from the board.
"We are in the expansion mode on the one hand, with the new jail looming in the near future, and it's hard for us to rationalize reducing on the other hand," he said. "You can't go out the day before you open a new jail and hire people to staff it."