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Watertight LA County Budget Arrives In Shipshape

county_seal_copySaying they’d “weathered an extraordinary fiscal journey” over the last four years Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer William T Fujioka is pulling the 2012-2013 budget into port watertight and shipshape.

The budget proposal unveiled today, totaling $23.781 billion, includes “no dramatic impacts or cuts” in public services. Additionally, the county will once again avoid the need for furloughs or layoffs.

Officials described the current budget shortfall of $75.8 million as “a manageable deficit” (when compared to a shortfall of $491 million just two years ago) which they were able to resolve through a variety of solutions. For the first time in four years the budget proposal does not require cuts or curtailments by county departments.

Fujioka credits the current budget to the fiscal practice and long-term budgeting discipline of the Board of Supervisors, the support of the county’s labor partners, and the cost curtailments and efficiency gains spearheaded by department heads and employees.

For first time in four years, the budget proposal does not include any departmental curtailments. Officials say county departments have endured over $360 million in curtailments over the last four years, along with the elimination of over 2,100 vacant budgeted positions. Department budget cuts have averaged a 17-percent reduction, with some departments taking cuts of over 30-percent.

Fifth District Supervisor Michael Antonovich noted that the current budget proposal is $565 million less than last year.

“Due to the Board's fiscal discipline we did not increase entitlements and ongoing spending during the economic boom,” said Antonovich.

 


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The county implemented a hard-hiring freeze and a freeze on non-essential services, supplies and equipment.  Employee labor groups worked with the county by agreeing to zero salary or cost-of-living increases, while increases for county managers have been suspended for several years.

Antonovich acknowledged the cooperation with the labor unions.

“The unions agreed to no raises for the fourth year in a row, which has significantly held down costs,” Antonovich said.

Not only was the shortfall deemed manageable, but a deepening controversy over a dramatic revenue drop revealed by Assessor John Noguez is not causing undue concern to officials.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Noguez reported in December that the county's property tax base would grow by $18.7 billion for the next fiscal year. However, last week he revised his estimate down to only $5.1 billion. Under that scenario the county would receive $50 million less than expected.

The county is having the Assessor’s report independently audited and verified, but they say even in a worst-case scenario the county is financially positioned to address a loss in revenue without impacting public services or the 101,610 employees.

(Noguez is also being investigated by the District Attorney's Public Integrity Unit regarding his relationship to a campaign fundraiser who has allegedly received large property tax reductions for wealthy homeowners the fundraiser represents.)

Another source of savings in the budget comes from the anticipated drop in requests for General Relief. The cost of providing General Relief is entirely provided by the County, and with the drop in caseload, the County is estimating a $27.4 million reduction in costs in the 2012-13 budget. The County’s monthly average General Relief caseload had grown from 58,599 in 2006-07 to a peak of 113,034 last year.  Since their highest point in August 2011 officials say assistance payments have been dropping.

The budget is not just about holding down expenses, there are also allocations for expansion. The county proposal includes the addition of 185 positions, including 157 law enforcement positions in the Sheriff’s Department, and eight positions to serve the mental health needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families.

Antonovich sees the need for increased law enforcement.

“Violent crimes have increased 0.82 percent and serious property crimes reported have increased by 6.09 percent in Sheriff’s patrol areas countywide for the first quarter of 2012 as compared to the same timeframe last year,” Antonovich said.

The Capital Project portion of the budget proposal includes recommendations to fund $367 million in public protection facilities and fire stations. Another $151.8 million is recommended for recreational facilities, including swimming pools, community centers, parks, and beach upgrades.

County officials emphasize that this budget proposal is just the first step in a months-long process that includes public hearings, deliberations, and the inclusion and consideration of potential impacts from the State and Federal budget proposals.

Still, as the proposal pulls into port it would seem the hatches on Fujioka’s budget no longer require battening.