The Board of Supervisors Tuesday praised a $23.8 billion proposed county budget that calls for no major cuts in services, but also called for clarifications and changes -- including a review of patrol services in unincorporated areas, expansion of an overcrowded psychiatric emergency room and funding for a youth summer employment program.
The spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 -- released Monday and formally presented to the board today by county Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka -- anticipates no layoffs, furloughs or significant service cuts, though it is $565 million smaller than last year's budget.
Efficiency initiatives and a reduction in the welfare caseload due to falling unemployment have helped reduce county costs.
After praising employees working to save money and labor union leaders who agreed to recent contracts without cost-of-living increases, the supervisors offered a first round of budget changes and clarifications.
Supervisors Gloria Molina and Michael Antonovich called for a detailed accounting of sheriff's patrol services and costs in unincorporated areas -- which account for $473 million next year. They also asked the county's auditor-controller to conduct an independent review of services provided to unincorporated areas and to specifically confirm that resources for patrols in those communities were used ``consistent with the intent of the funding.''
Antonovich said he was worried that the number of patrols was impacted by more than 800 vacant deputy jobs.
But the department is already ``hot and heavy into recruitment and training'' and is expected to train three academy classes of recruits at one time, according to Glen Dragovich, assistant director of the department's administrative services division.
Some of that hiring was triggered by AB 109, a law mandating counties to take over supervision of parolees -- once the responsibility of the state -- and locally jail low-risk criminal offenders.
An additional 157 law enforcement positions are added in the budget proposal -- which includes a total of 185 new county jobs.
Antonovich and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky asked that a project to expand and renovate Olive View-UCLA Medical Center's psychiatric emergency room be made a budget priority. Hospital workers have been treating ER patients in an empty sixth-floor inpatient unit to cope with overcrowding.
The proposed budget includes $1.1 billion in recommended capital spending, including $380 million for health and mental health facilities -- such as construction at the Martin Luther King Jr. medical campus and a new mental health clinic and surgery and emergency suites at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center -- and $367 million for public protection facilities, like new fire stations in the Santa Clarita Valley and security improvements at juvenile halls and camps.
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe objected to the elimination of $3.5 million in funding for a summer youth employment program and asked that county employees track down federal or state monies to maintain the program -- which they said put about 2,600 young people to work last summer.
Overall, Fujioka was optimistic about the county's financial position amid signs of economic growth. Even faced with a recent dramatic drop in county Assessor's John Noguez' estimates of property tax revenues for next year, Fujioka said he was confident the county could manage without cutting services.
That forecast by Noguez spurred the board to request an audit of the assessor's office last week.
But Yaroslavsky raised concerns about what would happen to the county's health care costs if the Affordable Care Act -- major health care reform passed in 2010 -- is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"If the act is blown up by the Supreme Court, which would be a great tragedy ... then we are going to have to revisit ... what kind of a health department we're going to have ... and where we're going to get the money to run it,'' Yaroslavsky said.
The Department of Health Services is coming into the new budget year without a deficit for the first time since Yaroslavsky took office in 1994, he said.
The impact of state budget cuts is also pending, and more than one supervisor mentioned concerns about costs related to the AB 109 realignment.
But the mood was generally positive, as the supervisors patted themselves on the back for holding to conservative fiscal policies and congratulated county employees on cost-saving initiatives that have cut annual operating costs by $255 million.
"When I see the kind of efficiency initiatives that have happened across this county with every single department ... to see these kinds of savings is just so impressive,'' Molina said, a sentiment echoed by her colleagues.
County employees were asked to report back to the board on each of the supervisors' motions.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 16.
- Elizabeth Marcellino reporting for City News Service