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2 Supervisors Propose Taking a Little Off the Top : Budget: Stanton and Vasquez answer $93-million shortfall with call to trim executive office spending and high-level hiring freeze.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Faced with a $93-million budget shortfall, two Orange County supervisors Friday proposed a series of cuts from the top, including 10% reductions in executive office budgets countywide.

The proposal includes an indefinite freeze on management-level hiring and asks the supervisors to recommend cuts in their own office budgets, which now total up to $695,000 per year.

“It is appropriate to send the word loud and clear that no branch of government will be immune from cuts this time around,” declared Supervisor Roger R. Stanton, who formulated the proposal with Supervisor Gaddi H. Vasquez. “It does mean the possible elimination of positions, and it’s probably going to be pretty painful.”

Stanton said the proposal follows a growing sentiment “throughout the national society” that serious adjustments have to be made in the way government spends its money.

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Also included in a three-page outline entitled “County Budget Balancing Challenge,” the supervisors recommended:

* A 35% reduction in monthly travel allowances for county department heads, from $715 per month to $465.

* Assignment of county managers to more than one department to fill vacant positions.

* Expansion of early-retirement offerings for all executive-level employees.

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* No executive-level salary increases for 1993-94.

It was not known how much in actual dollars the proposed directives could save the county. But Stanton and Vasquez vowed that neither the $6.6-million budget maintained by the county administrative office, nor the $3.1 million used to staff the supervisors’ own offices would be spared.

The full Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the plan in two weeks. If the board endorses it, the staff would incorporate it into the proposed budget package for hearings in April.

Although lacking many details, the proposal is the board’s first formal response to news last month that the county’s budget shortfall had reached unprecedented levels. Much of the blame for that has been place on state government, where a serious financial crisis has forced repeated raids on local government revenues.

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This year, the county is expected to lose nearly $60 million alone to the state, resulting from a proposed shift of property tax money to fund the state school system. Much of that money now funds county services for public safety, libraries, flood control and the network of harbors, beaches and parks.

“County taxpayers have long suffered from an inequitable distribution of tax revenues which relegates Orange County to a ‘donor’ county status,” the supervisors’ report stated. “This diversion of county revenues has not been balanced by any relaxation of the state-mandated programs that the county must continue to provide.”

As a result, Stanton and Vasquez are also recommending a major review of county services mandated by either the state or federal governments to determine which may be eliminated or somehow reduced because of inadequate funding.

“Some people may think this is wishful thinking,” Vasquez said, “but with the ways that state and local governments are suffering, it is important for us to develop a strategy so that we are not just taking funds away from each other.”

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The situation may worsen in future years, the supervisors’ report said.

“It is uncertain when California’s economy will pick up, and it is reasonable to expect that the demand for many of the services provided by Orange County will continue to increase,” the report stated. “Major structural reform in both the system and source of local government financing is needed to prepare the county for this difficult future.”

Just last month, Board of Supervisors Chairman Harriett M. Wieder said the shortfall represented the largest in her 14 years on the board and would require “very hard choices” to be made, including possible layoffs.

“Up until now, we’ve been used to solving these problems with mirrors,” Wieder said at that time. “Now, we don’t even have those anymore.”

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Anticipating widespread public disapproval, the county has asked members of its state legislative delegation to sit with them during initial budget hearings in April to help answer residents’ concerns about likely service cuts.


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