After two weeks of using e-mail to squelch wild rumors of imminent disaster, Larry Leaman, the harried director of Orange County's Social Services agency, finally had some real news Friday: No one would be out on the street two days before Christmas.
County Marshal Michael Carona told his staff the same day that they may be jostling for the remaining pens and Post-It notes, and the bottled water had to go--but none of them would have to.
In other county offices, though, employees openly wept Friday, stunned that the county's troubles had become their own.
The day after county officials announced nearly $30 million in budget cuts--with still more to come--the traditional Yuletide spirit was eclipsed by sadness and an odd sort of relief. Sure, most employees still have their jobs, but after the county had tightened its belt to the last notch, what sorts of jobs would those be?
And many questioned whether the cuts were justly distributed. The Orange County Sheriff's Department, with a budget of $179 million, suffered a $1.2-million cut, while Carona's marshal's agency took an almost identical hit to its $31-million budget.
The Alternate Defense Fund, a part of the Superior Court that pays for private counsel for the poor, was cut by 29%. The cut will add about 3,000 cases to the workload of the already overburdened public defender's office.
"I'd like to know how the public defender's office is possibly going to absorb all these cases," said Judge James L. Smith, the presiding judge of Orange County Superior Court, whose department will have to cut $1.3 million from its overall budget. "I don't know what some of these people have been smoking, but I'd like to get ahold of some of it."
With positions frozen around the county, employees and department heads Friday envisioned mountains of paperwork, offices crowded with impatient clients and longer work hours for which they would not be paid.
"We've been doing a lot of what we do--just trying to catch up around here--with overtime," said Carona, the county marshal. "Now, there's no overtime."
Even worse, county workers learned, the rules suddenly have changed: Seniority no longer means job security.
County Clerk Gary A. Granville said he wasn't sure who will be laid off when he eliminates four to six jobs next year in a planned merger of the clerk and recorder's offices.
But Granville was clear on one point: The decisions would not be based on years of service.
"We will be cutting on a merit basis. We will keep the best people, whether or not they're those who have been there the longest," Granville said. "Longevity doesn't necessarily have anything to do with who's (doing the best work)."
Most department heads said Friday that they would not have any concrete information on how they will make cuts until at least next week.
Robert Kuhel, the executive officer of the Central Municipal Court, summoned more than 180 edgy staff members into a courtroom Thursday to give them a welcome verdict: Their jobs were safe. Beyond that, Kuhel and his counterparts at the four other municipal courts could not say what will happen.
"We start realizing that this a very, very dire strait we're in. . . . It's not their fault. It's not our fault. It's a fact," he said.
But most indicated that the cuts could be made by leaving current job openings unfilled and cutting the "nice-to-haves," like bottled water. Kuhel said the judges already have requested that he combine the libraries that each courtroom keeps.
"We will not be promoting and we will forestall any merit increases," said Kuhel, who anticipates a dip in morale when the reality of a pay ceiling kicks in.
Social Services Director Leaman said his agency--which took a $5.9-million cut--will save most of its money by leaving positions--including management jobs--vacant. The first priority, he said, are front-line caseworkers who handle everything from welfare benefits to child abuse complaints. What might have to go, he said, are janitorial services, clerical positions and plans for a new welfare office.
"The offices in our agency may look more like the Department of Motor Vehicles than we would like," he said. "The public will see more overloaded reception areas and phones that go unanswered sometimes."
Once many learned they would escape the ax for now, county workers turned their fears to the thousands of people who rely on the county for everything from court translation to mental health counseling.
"I think there's a general large question mark over most employees' heads," said county Mental Health Director Tim Mullins. "(They are) concerned that the people aren't going to get served."
Times staff writers Jodi Wilgoren and Greg Johnson contributed to this story.
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Depth of the Cuts
For fiscal year 1994-95, which ends June 30, Orange County officials have recommended cutbacks totaling about $30 million in a wide range of departments. Here is a list of proposed cuts, which can be made at directors' discretion, following supervisorial guidelines:
Approved 1993-94 Agency Budget Alternate defense* $12.4 million Assessor $16.7 million Auditor-controller $12.4 million Clerk of the board $1.1 million Community services $14.1 million County administrative office $ 5.9 million County clerk $5.5 million County counsel $5.4 million District attorney $43.3 million Environmental Management Agency $95.2 million General Services Agency $37.5 million Health Care Agency $216.7 million Human Resources $5.7 million LAFCO $246,000 Marshal $27 million Central Municipal Court $10.3 million Harbor Municipal Court $ 7.4 million North Municipal Court $9.3 million South Municipal Court $6.6 million West Municipal Court $8.7 million Probation $52.6 million Public defender -- Sheriff-coroner $144 million Superior Court $40.4 million Social Services $157.4 million Supervisor District 1 (Roger R. Stanton) $527,000 Supervisor District 2 $561,000 (Harriett M. Wieder leaving; Jim Silva arriving) Supervisor District 3 (Gaddi H. Vasquez) $526,000 Supervisor District 4 (William G. Steiner) $562,000 Supervisor District 5 $627,000 (Thomas F. Riley leaving; Marian Bergeson arriving) Treasurer-tax collector $7.3 million
Approved 1994-95 Agency Budget Alternate defense* $12.7 million Assessor $17.1 million Auditor-controller $ 9.1 million Clerk of the board $1.6 million Community services $16.6 million County administrative office $6.3 million County clerk $4.9 million County counsel $5.6 million District attorney $56.6 million Environmental Management Agency $95.6 million General Services Agency $37.0 million Health Care Agency $236.3 million Human Resources $4.5 million LAFCO $427,000 Marshal $30.7 million Central Municipal Court $10.4 million Harbor Municipal Court $7.6 million North Municipal Court $9.9 million South Municipal Court $7.0 million West Municipal Court $8.6 million Probation $68.1 million Public defender -- Sheriff-coroner $178.7 million Superior Court $41.8 million Social Services $213.3 million Supervisor District 1 (Roger R. Stanton) $549,000 Supervisor District 2 $538,000 (Harriett M. Wieder leaving; Jim Silva arriving) Supervisor District 3 (Gaddi H. Vasquez) $537,000 Supervisor District 4 (William G. Steiner) $573,000 Supervisor District 5 $614,000 (Thomas F. Riley leaving; Marian Bergeson arriving) Treasurer-tax collector $7.9 million
Recommended Cuts as % Cuts From of 1994-95 Agency 1994-95 Budget budget Alternate defense* $3.7 million 29.0 Assessor $250,000 1.5 Auditor-controller $325,000 3.6 Clerk of the board $195,000 12.2 Community services $300,000 1.8 County administrative office $730,000 11.6 County clerk $100,000 2.0 County counsel $100,000 1.8 District attorney $600,000 1.1 Environmental Management Agency $750,000 0.8 General Services Agency $4.6 million 12.4 Health Care Agency $3 million 1.3 Human Resources $800,000 17.8 LAFCO $30,000 0.7 Marshal $1.2 million 3.9 Central Municipal Court $285,000 2.7 Harbor Municipal Court $247,000 3.3 North Municipal Court $270,000 2.7 South Municipal Court $207,000 2.9 West Municipal Court $240,000 2.8 Probation $3 million 4.4 Public defender 0 -- Sheriff-coroner $1.2 million 0.7 Superior Court $1 million 2.4 Social Services $5.9 million 2.8 Supervisor District 1 (Roger R. Stanton) $56,800 10.3 Supervisor District 2 $46,663 8.7 (Harriett M. Wieder leaving; Jim Silva arriving) Supervisor District 3 (Gaddi H. Vasquez) $44,890 8.3 Supervisor District 4 (William G. Steiner) $81,338 14.2 Supervisor District 5 $121,486 19.8 (Thomas F. Riley leaving; Marian Bergeson arriving) Treasurer-tax collector $360,000 4.6
* When the public defender has a conflict in an indigent defendant's case, another defense attorney on contract is appointed.
Source: Orange County Operations Management Council