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County CEO presents balanced budget with no layoffs

City News Service | 4/15/2013, 11:14 a.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Los Angeles County's chief executive today presented a balanced budget proposal totaling $24.7 billion, crediting the county's success during hard times to long-tenured supervisors and a partnership with labor unions.

Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka contrasted the county's position with other struggling municipalities.

"You have entities talking about bankruptcy or being on the verge of bankruptcy ... going to labor and asking for givebacks," Fujioka said.

About 580 municipalities have seen their debt ratings cut, he said, while Los Angeles County's long-term debt rating was upgraded to AA from AA- by Standard & Poor's in October.

Refinancing bond issues will help the county save a projected $100 million over the next 20 years, according to the CEO.

"It speaks to the fact that we have a long-tenured board," Fujioka said. "They had to live with the consequences of their actions," he added, drawing a contrast with Sacramento, where elected officials are "leaving every two years, every four years."

The five-member Board of Supervisors will be completely revamped by 2016, when all but one of the supervisors' terms will expire and they will be barred by law from running again. Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas is in his second term.

The county reduced spending significantly over the past five years to close budget deficits as high as $491.6 million in fiscal 2010-11. Spending was reduced an average of 15 percent, though some departments saw budgets slashed by as much as 30 percent.

"Every single county employee took a zero raise over the last four years," Fujioka said.

Fujioka said recent meetings with public safety unions included discussions about possible cost of living increases, but he declined to say more, citing labor negotiations.

The county's unfunded pension liability was $2.9 billion as of June 30.

That means the county will be spending more on pensions, though Fujioka said the county had been more prudent than most in managing benefits.

An improving economic outlook was expected to increase county revenues generated by property and sales taxes. The draft budget assumes property assessments will increase about 2.9 percent in 2013-14, though updated forecasts are expected in May. Sales taxes are assumed to rise about 4 percent.

The county did not lay off employees during the lean years, though it eliminated more than 2,100 open, vacant positions and instituted a hiring freeze. Based on the budget proposal, significant new hires in the Department of Children and Family Services, as well as to accommodate health care reform and new probation responsibilities under AB109 realignment.

The budget also calls for $976.9 million in capital projects, including the new Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center and a new outpatient facility at Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center. About $157 million is included to modernize jail and juvenile detention facilities, but the scope of jail redesign is still under study.

Other new expenditures include $5 million in funding for an Office of Inspector General to provide oversight of the Sheriff's Department and the county's jail system and $1 million to implement reforms recommended by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence.

Funding is also proposed for programs to address summer gang suppression, urban storm water runoff, high-tech cyber crime and energy efficiency.

The impact of state and federal budget negotiations and healthcare reform remains unclear, Fujioka said.

The budget proposal -- the first step in a long process of review and revision -- will be presented to the board tomorrow. Public hearings are scheduled to begin May 15.