L.A. County chief calls for job cuts


Los Angeles County must make significant cuts to the Sheriff’s Department budget, scale back library hours and reduce public health and other services to close a more than $500-million budget shortfall, the top county executive said Monday.

For the first time in the current economic downturn, county officials said layoffs may be necessary. About 100 county workers could lose their jobs, a sliver of the county’s 100,000 employees, under the budget proposed by William T Fujioka, the county’s chief executive.

“This will be the worst year,” Fujioka said at a news conference announcing his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

Under his proposal, scheduled to be presented Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff’s Department would take one of the biggest cuts: $128 million. The reduction to the department’s $2.1-billion budget would come largely by eliminating hundreds of unfilled deputy and other positions, including at Pitchess Detention Center, and reducing overtime.

Other proposed reductions:

* $7.9-million cut to the public health department budget, including the elimination of 81 vacant jobs.

* $7.9-million cut to the property assessor’s office, affecting appraisals, information technology projects and other services, as well as eliminating 22 unfilled jobs.

* $7.4-million cut to the Department of Public Social Services, which routinely has long lines outside its welfare offices. More than 380 vacant jobs would be eliminated.

* $4.8-million cut from the county’s public libraries, resulting in fewer hours at some libraries and the elimination of an adult literacy program and nine vacant jobs.

In all, Fujioka’s budget calls for eliminating 1,400 county jobs that are currently vacant. The 100 layoffs, if needed, would come from across county departments, Fujioka said.

His budget proposal for the coming fiscal year totalsjust over $22.7 billion , a decrease of $885 million from the current budget. Public hearings on the proposal are scheduled to start May 12.

The budget unveiled Monday does not address an additional $362.4-million shortfall in the Department of Health Services. John Schunhoff, the county’s interim director of health services, said his department is counting on about $300 million in pending federal funds, in addition to more cost-cutting steps, to close the gap and avoid layoffs.

Fujioka cautioned that the county may have to make far more significant reductions if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed $1.5-billion cut to county funding, which was not factored into Fujioka’s plan, goes through.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich said the likelihood of more bad fiscal news from the state underscored the need to work with county labor groups.

“It looks like they are going to continue to punt rather than truly put their fiscal affairs in order,” Antonovich said Monday of Sacramento lawmakers.

Fujioka said conversations with union leaders representing most of the county’s 100,000 workers were progressing well. He declined to specify what concessions were on the table, but said he hopes they will add up to $115 million and prevent layoffs. Still, he said, “I don’t want to say layoffs are unlikely.”

Elizabeth Brennan, spokeswoman for the SEIU 721, the county’s largest union, said her group still hoped the $115 million in savings could be achieved through new efficiencies, not in cuts to personnel.

Even with the cutbacks, about $1.3 billion in new capital improvements are planned, including the proposed reopening of the ornate 14-story county Hall of Justice downtown, which has been vacant since it was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Sheriff Lee Baca hopes to move his headquarters back to the building, which once housed coroner’s and district attorney’s offices as well.

Fujioka’s proposed budget also cuts $200,000 from each supervisor’s discretionary spending fund, leaving the five supervisors with $3.2 million, rather than the $3.4 million in this year’s budget.

Cuts to those funds — which have drawn scrutiny and criticism in recent months — have been less significant than other departmental budgets during the three-year downturn, and the supervisors collectively hold more than $27 million in their accounts already.

Since 2006, many county departments have slashed 20% or more from their budgets through job attrition, service cuts and greater efficiency.

Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.