County Board OKs Budget in Principle


The county Board of Supervisors approved the framework of its $12-billion annual budget Tuesday, setting in motion a “re-engineering process” that calls for significant cuts and as many as 1,200 layoffs in its embattled health department.

By a unanimous vote--and after a long day of discussion--the supervisors approved in principle the 3-inch-thick budget document drafted by Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen and his staff and released Monday.

While voting to accept the budget, the supervisors reserved the right to significantly reallocate funds before adopting a final spending plan sometime before the start of the fiscal year July 1.


But by adopting Janssen’s budget now--and its call for cutting $120 million from the Health Services Department--the board took a necessary first step toward closing a dangerously large budget gap, said board Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky.

“We are either going to make reckless and mindless across-the-board cuts [at the last minute] or well-thought-out cuts through efficiencies, consolidations and other means,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is a responsible approach, and it is the only approach.”

Now the budget will go before the public during a set of hearings, so county union leaders, community representatives, activists and the public can have their say.

The county’s 38 department heads also will have their chance to seek more money from the supervisors. As in past years, those deliberations are sure to be contentious, pitting liberal supervisors, who want more money for health and welfare services, against their conservative colleagues, who want to spend more on law enforcement.

That familiar rift began to appear Tuesday, when Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke said she was uncomfortable with such severe cutbacks in the health department--especially the layoffs--without knowing where the cuts will come from and how much money will be saved.

With county union leaders looking on approvingly in the supervisors’ Hall of Administration chambers, Burke said: “If I’m going to vote to fire 1,200 people, I want to know what I’m going to get for firing 1,200 people. I want to know if it is real, and not based on projections.”


Health Services Director Mark Finucane told the supervisors that he doesn’t know exactly how he plans to close the entire gap. Instead, he outlined a proposal to achieve $42 million in estimated savings through a systemwide series of “efficiencies,” program consolidations and “very aggressive” general restructuring.

Such a move could eliminate hundreds of jobs and leave hundreds of critically needed positions unfilled. But Finucane said many details will have to be finalized in the coming months, with approval of the supervisors and their staffs.

Some of the proposed savings would come through reducing overhead, consolidating laboratories and pharmacies, and improving and streamlining purchasing operations, according to Finucane and health department reports.

Others, he said, would come through as-yet-unidentified automation projects, collapsing of management layers and the elimination of “low value” work.

In all, Janssen and Finucane called for 1,183 full-time employee reductions in the health department--308 in the agency’s so-called southwest cluster, 628 in the northeast cluster, 108 in the coastal zone and 139 in the San Fernando Valley.

Even with those cuts, however, the department would still face about an $80-million deficit, and Finucane offered no concrete solutions for closing it.



Instead, he submitted a self-described “grab bag” of ways to seek additional funding from the state and federal governments, and suggested that he and the supervisors work together before July 1 to reach solutions.

But soon Supervisor Mike Antonovich was pledging that he would fight during the upcoming budget deliberations for even more money for law enforcement--perhaps at the expense of the health department.

“The budget we have before us is only a status quo budget; the district attorney is in dire need of additional personnel, as is the public defender, the Probation Department and our sheriff. They still have 1,000 needed deputies,” said Antonovich, a staunch law and order supporter.

All five supervisors, county officials disclosed Tuesday, will spend all of next week lobbying for more state and federal dollars during special trips to Sacramento and Washington.

So important are those trips, Janssen said, that the board should consider canceling its weekly meeting next Tuesday. Janssen’s suggestion was approved unanimously.

The newly adopted budget blueprint also calls for hiring as many as 2,000 new employees in other departments--mostly paid for by specially earmarked state and federal funds--that would provide for more jail beds, more detailed investigations of child abuse cases and more participants in a much-praised welfare-to-work program.


And it leaves many other departments without increases after years of cutbacks. Throughout the day Tuesday, the supervisors heard from a parade of county department heads, including Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti.

All of them said they need more money in their budgets for next year or they won’t be able to provide critically needed services.