O.C. to avert layoffs, cutbacks

Times Staff Writer

Orange County is poised to avoid layoffs and severe cuts in government services in the coming year, according to preliminary budget documents made public Monday.

County officials are proposing a $6.6-billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, a growth of about $700 million over the current year. Though the turbulent economy has threatened tax revenue, the county will be able to muddle through by tapping about $20 million in reserves. Because of the lag time between property reassessments and their effect on revenue, property taxes have not yet declined to the point at which the county would have to make severe cuts.

For the most part, county departments will be held to the same level of spending as in the previous year. The growth in the budget will come primarily from spending on construction projects to upgrade John Wayne Airport and to restructure the program that distributes property tax revenue to cities.

Some county departments, primarily probation and social services, will face a combined reduction of about $19 million, though $6.2 million of that may ultimately be restored.

In probation, significant savings will come from reducing administrative costs such as tech support and facilities maintenance, but cuts also include nearly $2 million from eliminating vacant positions for juvenile camps, jails and courts, and about $1.2 million from reducing contracts to treat high-risk young offenders.

In social services, about $6 million will be cut by reducing in-home support services for the elderly and infirm.

In addition, budget officials anticipate about $9 million in reductions to state-funded programs that are operated by the county, including Medi-Cal, child welfare and adult protective services. "We cannot afford to support or backfill state reductions with county dollars," said Frank Kim, the county's budget chief.

There will be no layoffs, but a hiring freeze has been in place for several months. As a result, the county expects to have 107 fewer employees in the next fiscal year, with a total workforce of 18,641.

Supervisors plan to hold a public hearing May 30 to discuss the budget, and two days of hearings June 10 and 11 to take straw votes on spending priorities for the coming year. A hearing on final adoption is scheduled for June 24.



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