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Steiner Seeks to Postpone 200 New Hires : Budget: The positions should not be filled until it is clear that the state will not be dipping into county coffers to balance its books, the supervisor says.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Orange County Supervisor William G. Steiner on Thursday asked that the county delay the hiring of about 200 new employees proposed in this year’s budget until it is clear that state budget officials won’t tap county revenue.

“We don’t want to be filling positions in the fall and laying people off in the spring,” Steiner said at the close of three days of public budget hearings. “I don’t think it’s appropriate.”

Steiner said he wants to move ahead carefully on filling the new positions because he is concerned that state lawmakers, who have balanced their budget with some speculative revenue sources, may eventually look toward California counties to make up any shortfall.

He suggested filling positions only as needed until Nov. 15, when the state issues a report card on its budget. At that time, if the state is off its budget projections by more than 1%, automatic across-the-board spending cuts--except for education--would be imposed.

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Steiner’s recommendations, which he made before his colleagues at the end of the hearings, are expected to become part of the final budget scheduled to be adopted by the Board of Supervisors in late September.

Nearly 90 of the positions Steiner wants to hold off filling are scheduled for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and linked to the expansion of the Theo Lacy Branch Jail, which is being delayed because of litigation with the city of Orange. He also asked that the county postpone filling eight Health Care Agency positions in special education, and 56 slots for the Social Services Agency.

Steiner said most of the hires he wants to postpone have been budgeted to deal with expanding workloads that will occur later in the year and are not needed immediately.

The fact that the county is even considering hiring new employees is an indication of the uncharacteristically upbeat $3.7-billion budget package proposed for this fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

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“This is the 19th budget that I’ve attended since being a member of the board. . . . I would like to say that this is the best we’ve had,” said board Chairman Thomas F. Riley, who is retiring in November.

Steiner’s proposal covers only about 200 of 932 new positions in the proposed budget. Most of the 932 new positions proposed will be funded through state and federal mandates. More than 100 positions are being funded by contracts with cities that are asking the county to provide fire or law enforcement services.

During the budget hearings this week, officials said the county is in a much better financial situation than it has been in the past three years, when about 2,000 positions had to be eliminated.

But the county’s fiscal health, officials say, depends largely on what happens in Sacramento. County Administrative Officer Ernie Schneider said he is concerned because the state is expecting a $3.6-billion reimbursement from the federal government over the next two years for providing services to illegal immigrants. Furthermore, the state is counting on getting another $500 million from a lawsuit settlement against a number of California corporations over income taxes.

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“Both of these revenue assumptions are highly speculative from our perspective,” Schneider told the board earlier this week.


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