By ELIZABETH MARCELLINO, City News Service
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week approved a final $25.3 billion budget that sets aside "rainy day" funds and other reserves in a year when county revenue is rising.
Negotiations for the 2013-14 budget hit a snag when Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka sought to allocate $362 million that was not spent last year. Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich disagreed, leaving the budget temporarily without the four votes needed for approval.
"We have basically shut down the budget," Supervisor Don Knabe said at that point.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky accused his two colleagues of being "Tea Party-esque" -- a comment that drew a laugh from Ridley-Thomas -- and compared the move to Washington politics that have led to a government shutdown.
"I guess that's the order of the day," Yaroslavsky said.
At issue was $75 million in funding to be set aside for future capital and deferred maintenance projects.
Fujioka said that individual projects would have to be approved individually by the board.
"Each project will come forward and be fully vetted by staff," Fujioka said.
Ridley-Thomas objected, saying that earmarking the funds in advance would mean big-ticket items could be approved by three votes, rather than requiring agreement among at least four of the five supervisors.
"We should leave the money where it is," Ridley-Thomas said, suggesting that it stay in a general contingency account.
The board moved on to other business, and it seemed the supervisors might have to go behind closed doors to resolve their differences. But after series of side discussions that could not be heard by the public, Antonovich proposed moving the $75 million into a slightly different county pocket within Fujioka's department. The board's vote in favor was unanimous.
Even longtime board watchers said they found the inside baseball confusing.
Fujioka had sought to highlight the county's fiscal prudence, rather than its politics. About half of the $362 million was the result of ongoing projects not completed by end of the fiscal year. But the CEO attributed the remaining $189 million, now available for one-time expenses, to strong fiscal policies and sacrifices by county employees.
"This did not happen by accident," Fujioka said.
The Department of Health Services reported a surplus of more than $100 million for the first time in years.
The county bumped up estimates of property and sales tax revenue, but the CEO said the county is not out of the woods yet.
"Although we finished the fiscal year with a modest fund balance and our operating budget is now balanced and stabilized, looking forward, the county still faces significant budgetary challenges and uncertainties," Fujioka said.
Those uncertainties include the impact of healthcare reforms under the Affordable Care Act and the cost of implementing jail reforms as well as any recommendations that may be offered by a commission established to review the Department of Children and Family Services.
The 2013-14 budget sets aside $91 million in reserves to offset unexpected expenses.
The board separately approved $29 million to implement some of the reforms recommended by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, but it also took other action designed to increase Sheriff Lee Baca's accountability.
The Sheriff's Department will now be required to give 30 days notice to the board before curtailing any services.