Supervisors Agree to Make $242-Million Payment on Debt

Hoping to pay off lingering bankruptcy debt and ease some of Orange County's pressing social service needs, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday allocated nearly a quarter of a million dollars in bankruptcy payments and approved in concept several expansion projects.

At their annual strategic planning session, the board decided to allocate $242 million from bankruptcy-related lawsuit settlements to pay off part of the $800-million debt Orange County still owes.

Allocating that money to debt payments will prevent the county from spending $22 million annually from the general fund. Early debt payment also saves the county money in interest payments, officials said.

"You have good days and bad days but this happens to be a landmark day," said board Chairman Jim Silva. "It's a good day for the taxpayers of Orange County."

The board meeting Tuesday gives county staff a blueprint for next year's budget. The board members did not vote on any items or make any binding decisions.

The bankruptcy lawsuit settlements are not expected to be paid out until next year, and the final budget for the coming year may change depending on the economy and other factors, said Jan Mittermeier, county chief executive officer.

In other developments, the board agreed to allocate $3.7 million to purchase another shelter and explore the possibility of building a $6-million facility at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Facility, moves designed to ease overcrowding at the county's Orangewood Children's Home, an emergency shelter for kids.

The county was recently sued by a children's advocacy group for holding children younger than 6 in allegedly harmful, overcrowded conditions at Orangewood.

"I'm very hopeful that these additional resources will relieve overcrowding at Orangewood," said Supervisor William G. Steiner. "The board is dedicated to helping abused and abandoned kids in Orange County."

The supervisors also agreed to expand the county's Juvenile Hall facility by 60 more beds, establish a state-funded juvenile boot camp and search for a site to construct a second juvenile hall facility.

In addition, the board agreed to buy 20 acres in the Ladera community in South County to expand the cramped courthouse there.

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