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Countywide : Supervisors Open Hearings on Budget

Without a budget deficit to manage, Orange County government officials open hearings today in better financial shape than at any time in the past three years.

Although the county library system is still looking for an additional $10 million to maintain its operations through next year, the trouble does not seem to compare to 12 months ago when state officials raided local government coffers for $148 million in property tax revenue.

“I’ve seen worse times,” county Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron said Monday. “I think the state forced us to do a certain amount of downsizing that has forced us to live within our means.”

Living within its means has required the county to slice about 2,000 positions from various departments in the past three years. Only about 100 of the job cuts resulted in layoffs.

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This year, however, county officials are preparing a $3.5-billion budget that provides about the same level of funding as last year. But some departments are expected to get boosts in staffing--funded predominantly through state and federal grant money.

The Health Care Agency, among the first county departmental budgets scheduled for review today by the Board of Supervisors, has requested continued funding for 51 employees added last year. More than three dozen of those employees were hired to manage tuberculosis care after local outbreaks were reported. The remainder have been providing nutrition programs for children and pregnant women.

The agency’s proposed $235-million budget provides for a range of services, from disease control and immunization services to general health education, mental health and drug abuse services.

“I don’t think we can let our guard down on tuberculosis,” Steiner said, adding that he was supportive of the agency’s request. “I’m not getting any signals from the health care community. I think they are pretty satisfied with what we are doing.”

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The largest single personnel increase--123 workers--is being proposed for the county Social Services Agency. Officials have said the increase is needed because of rising caseloads of welfare, Medi-Cal and food stamp recipients.


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