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County Says It May Face Shortfall of $1.4 Billion : Finances: If Wilson’s proposed budget is adopted, the county would have to lay off more than 20,000 and close all but one public hospital, officials report.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County government may face a $1.45-billion shortfall, forcing more than 20,000 layoffs and the closure of all but one public hospital if Gov. Pete Wilson’s proposed state budget is adopted, county officials said Friday.

The possible cuts, submitted by 39 county department chiefs in the county’s first comprehensive report on the anticipated impact of Wilson’s budget, include the elimination of most adoption services, the closure of 54 county libraries and the release of 3,700 mental health patients and 7,500 jail inmates.

County officials say they drafted the proposals to warn lawmakers and Wilson about the impact of a proposed $2.6-billion shift in property tax revenues from local government to schools. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to debate the county budget in July.

“These are not scare tactics,” said Mary Jung, top assistant to interim Chief Administrative Officer Harry L. Hufford. “It’s an early warning so that people understand that the county provides services that affect every constituent.”

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Privately, county officials say they hope the grim budget forecast will help galvanize public opinion against the property tax shift, which Wilson says is necessary to balance the state budget.

Still, county officials hold out little hope that their budget forecasts will improve much. Earlier this month, Hufford asked department chiefs to draw plans for cuts in services ranging from 8% to 25%.

The county Department of Health Services would be hardest hit under the proposed cutbacks. If the county is forced to adopt a 25% budget cut, department officials said they would be forced to close every county hospital except Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. In all, 13,818 positions in the health department could be eliminated.

In a memorandum to supervisors, county health officials warned: “The county’s entire trauma/emergency system would likely collapse as private hospitals close their . . . emergency rooms to avoid an influx of uninsured patients.”

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Even under the rosiest scenario--an 8% budget cut--the health department would be forced to eliminate 35% of outpatient services and lay off about 1,800 workers.

“It’s a range from terrible to devastating at this point,” said Gerry Hertzberg, legislative deputy for Supervisor Gloria Molina. “Our hope at this point is that the state will give us just a terrible budget to deal with.

“It would be human catastrophe if (Wilson’s) state budget is adopted,” Hertzberg added.

No county department would be spared the budget ax under the draft budget proposal released Friday. The Department of Beaches and Harbors would remove lifeguards from 12 city and state beaches, while the Department of Parks and Recreation would close 24 of 33 public swimming pools.

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Welfare department chief Eddy Tanaka said he would have to eliminate 1,352 jobs if the worst-case budget is adopted. Processing of new welfare applications would be delayed by 17 weeks, Tanaka said.

County officials also presented plans for further reductions in General Relief welfare payments. Last year, supervisors reduced the monthly payments, which are made to 100,000 indigent single adults, to $293 from $341. On Friday, Hufford drafted a plan for lowering the grants to $237.

Rollbacks in the Department of Mental Health could cause the loss of 810 inpatient beds and the closure of 18 outpatient facilities, further contributing to the growing number of mentally ill men and women living on city streets.

Earlier this month, Sheriff’s Department and Probation Department officials submitted plans for 25% cuts of services, including the closure of nine sheriff’s stations and the elimination of two of five SWAT teams.

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