BOND TICKER : ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : Statehouse to Resume O.C. Focus

The Legislature reconvenes its special session on the Orange County bankruptcy today, but lawmakers say don't anticipate many fireworks.

On the Assembly side, leaders expect to form a special committee that will hear the bankruptcy bills. Republicans are pushing for the hearings to begin next week, but Democrats have yet to agree to a schedule.

Officials continued Wednesday to refine the committee's mission. Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson (D-Los Angeles), who will chair the committee, has expressed a desire for several initial hearings to get a general look at the county's problems.

In the Senate, the Rules Committee agreed Wednesday to allow a half dozen bills to be introduced to the special session today, the bulk of them from Orange County Sens. Rob Hurtt (R-Garden Grove) and John R. Lewis (R-Orange).

Hurtt's measures would allow the county to contract out services and reduce some costly state-mandated programs. Lewis' bills would streamline the process for the sale of government-owned property, allow the county to raise cash by selling off delinquent tax liens and free up money by reducing the size of certain county reserve funds. Sen. David G. Kelley (R-Idyllwild) has a measure designed to help the Orange County Transportation Authority to save some cash.

Water District Halves Its Budget

The Orange County Water District has cut its operating budget by nearly half in the wake of the county's financial crisis, but officials stress that there are no plans to raise water rates or decrease service.

The board has OKd a $45-million operating budget for fiscal year 1995-96, down from the previous year's $80 million, said James Van Haun, assistant to the general manager.

The agency has $89 million frozen in the county investment pool. Its new budget assumes that the district won't receive any of that money back during the next fiscal year.

Despite the budget reduction, Van Haun said, the district will not raise water rates or reduce service. No layoffs are planned, he said, but several capital projects have been placed on hold.

The water district's financial woes were lessened somewhat by the heavy winter rains, which filled ground water aquifers. The rain will allow the district to import less water than usual.

Funds From Drug Assets Frozen

About $6 million in seized narcotics assets earmarked for local law enforcement agencies is frozen in Orange County's bankrupt treasury, officials said Wednesday.

Sheriff's Capt. Randy Blair said the frozen funds haven't caused major problems but added that cutbacks in the program could occur if the money isn't disbursed by year's end.

The $6 million was set to be distributed to the Sheriff's Department, local police departments and other law enforcement agencies that helped arrest and convict drug offenders. Under state law, these agencies are entitled to some of the assets they seized, if the suspects are convicted.

Blair said the Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Task Force, which coordinates many drug busts, received about $1.8 million in emergency funds from U.S. Bankruptcy Court to keep programs running. But, he said, the task force will need more money by year's end.

Compiled by Shelby Grad, with Eric Bailey

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