Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Court Security to Be Cut as County Unveils Another Tight Budget
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
Funding for court security will be cut in the next fiscal year, under a tight regime necessitated by economic conditions, Los Angeles County’s top administrator said yesterday as he unveiled his proposed budget.
While the courts are primarily funded by the state, security remains primarily the function of the Sheriff’s Department, which was targeted for much of the $467.2 million in cuts proposed by Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen.
“We’re in a second year, locally, of difficult budget problems,” Janssen told reporters.
The budget for FY 2003-04, which begins July 1, will be about $16.5 billion, Janssen said, some $329.1 million less than this year.
As revenues fall, costs are rising, he said, citing a $57 million increase in workers’ compensation outlays and a $36.1 million hike in the cost of health insurance for retired employees.
The Sheriff’s Department, the Probation Department, the Department of Public Social Services and the county library system will be hardest hit, Janssen said.
The Sheriff’s Department “is bleeding now” from budget cuts, Janssen said, and about $75.4 million more are proposed for the next fiscal year, he explained.
Those will force the department to eliminate 173 positions. In addition to the impact on the courts, the department will have to cut back on community outreach, training, traffic investigations and other things, Janssen said.
Sheriff Lee Baca began releasing some misdemeanor crime inmates on April 1 to reduce his jail population to 17,500, which means lower food and security costs.
Janssen was to present the budget to county supervisors—who must approve the budget after a series of public hearings—today, but asked for a two-week postponement because at least one supervisor is scheduled to be absent from today’s session.
Like the sheriff, the Probation Department will have to make serious cuts. It is to receive $296.6 million in county funds, which is $10.4 million less than it received for the current fiscal year and $100 million less than it asked for.
The department will have to close a probation camp, reduce the amount it spends on investigations and pretrial supervised release services, eliminate 56 contracts with community-based groups for counseling services to minors and their families, and cut training positions, among other things, the CAO said.
Other law and justice agencies will also have to make due with limited funds.
Net county funding for the Office of the District Attorney is $122.3 million, an increase of $4.7 million over the current year’s budget but $12 million short of what District Attorney Steve Cooley requested. The office will be budgeted for 143 fewer positions than last year.
Cooley, in an internal memo last week, complained that the proposal will force the consolidation or reduction of specialized units that prosecute crimes against “the most vulnerable crime victims.”
Public Defender Michael Judge’s office will receive its requested $124.8 million, up from $121.2 million last year. The increase will cover increases in salaries and benefits plus funding to place deputies in seven courts where the office previously had to declare unavailability.
“All of our needs were not met,” however, Assistant Public Defender Robert Kalunian told the MetNews. “We realistically did not expect all our needs to be met.”
The county funds will not make up, for example, for the loss of two positions funded by state grants, including one for a senior deputy to oversee post-conviction DNA testing “which we still believe we’re going to have to do,” Kalunian said.
The office is also going to have to find a solution to space problems caused by the closing of certain courts. With criminal cases moved out of San Pedro, for instance, the deputies there will have to be moved into already tight quarters in Long Beach, Kalunian explained.
The Office of the Alternate Public Defender will receive the $33.313 million it requested, allowing it to add seven positions to handle cases at courthouses that it does not already service.
Janssen warned that unless legislators agree to increase the vehicle license fee to help offset the deficit, the county could face an additional $472 million cut.
Additional state cuts to the nation’s most populous county could be “devastating,” he said.
In addition to the cutbacks at the Sheriff’s Department, the budget also includes the multimillion-dollar cuts already made at the Department of Health Services.
The DHS would have to eliminate 642 positions next fiscal year under the Janssen proposal. That is in on top of the 1,700 positions the department will need to eliminate in June, the county’s Judy Hammond said.
Some of those jobs are expected to result in layoffs, Janssen said. The county workforce would decrease by 2,158 employees.
Except for the DHS, all departments eliminating jobs are expected to do so by attrition rather than layoffs, Janssen said.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company