Supervisors Bow to Governor and Cut Office Budgets

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Bowing to pressure from Gov. Jerry Brown, Orange County supervisors on Monday unanimously reversed an earlier vote to exempt themselves from an across-the-board cut to county departments.

The 5-percent reduction countywide, which county management said will have no major impacts on services, was finalized Monday as part of approving a new $5.3-billion total budget.

The cut, which Brown’s office demanded supervisors subject themselves to after reading a Voice of OC article, comes amid county efforts to resolve a $147-million property tax dispute with the state.

In the earlier straw vote, Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor John Moorlach had voted to include their offices in the cuts, while supervisors Janet Nguyen, Pat Bates and Todd Spitzer voted to exempt themselves.

“Chairman [Nelson] and I went to Sacramento and were confronted with this in the governor’s office,” Spitzer said.

The meeting made Spitzer realize that the board shouldn’t leave observers “somehow thinking that we’re not playing by the same rules,” he said Monday.

County government and labor leaders have been scrambling to react to a major financial blow from losing $73-million per year in property taxes the county had been directing its way.

The loss constitutes 11 percent of the county’s discretionary spending, officials said, prompting supervisors and labor unions to lobby Brown and state legislative leaders for funding.

Ultimately, supervisors voted unanimously to trim their office budgets by 5 percent below the current-year levels.

The move would trim around $240,000 altogether, with an average of around $48,000 per supervisor, based on the county’s budget records.

The approach of using the current-year adopted budget as a baseline was put forward by Bates, who said her office was set to receive a major boost under staff’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget.

“I’m actually getting more money than I had and that I need,” said Bates, saying a 5-percent cut would have still put her budget higher than the current year funding level.

Supervisors also reversed course on an earlier move to no longer have the county pay for premium health benefits for Superior Court judges.

The backtracking came after the prospect was raised that some judges may resign if required to pay for the benefits, which the county pays in addition to benefits the judges already receive through the state’s health plan.

“I think you have made the promise to the people who are sitting judges right now that this is what you can expect,” Presiding Superior Court Judge Thomas Borris told supervisors, adding that he believes “some of the judges probably would leave office” if the county moves forward with the cuts.

Chief Financial Officer Frank Kim said staff had proposed cutting the plan due to a broad board directive to examine “costs incurred by the county that aren’t specific to a county-mandated responsibility.”  California’s superior courts fall under the state government.

Supervisors decided to reconsider the issue during budget discussions a year from now.

The current-year original adopted budgets for supervisors’ offices, according to county records, (page 358 onwards) are:

  • $985,000 for Supervisor Janet Nguyen (District 1),
  • $940,000 for Supervisor John Moorlach (District 2),
  • $899,000 for Supervisor Todd Spitzer (District 3),
  • $985,000 for Chairman Shawn Nelson (District 4) and
  • $948,000 for Vice Chair Pat Bates (District 5).

That comes to a little under $5 million overall for supervisor budgets, as originally adopted.

In total, county spending this coming year is scheduled to be down $314 million or 6 percent from the current year, to $5.31 billion.

Kim said the budget reductions were largely accomplished through reducing capital projects and information technology program spending. The cuts include laying off three management employees in the auditor-controller’s office within the Comprehensive Asset Protection Solutions Program office.

The county’s new budget includes:

  • $656 million for the main Health Care Agency budget, up 0.5 percent from current year’s adopted budget,
  • $530 million for the main sheriff-coroner budget, up 3 percent,
  • $484 million for the main Social Services Agency budget, up 7 percent,
  • $201 million for the John Wayne Airport operating enterprise budget, up 70 percent and
  • $180 million for the Orange County Housing Authority, up 13 percent.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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