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Supervisors give preliminary approval to 2017-18 budget

LOS ANGELES — The county Board of Supervisors initially approved a proposed $30 billion budget for Los Angeles County April 18, starting a process of public hearings and adjustments before it is finalized in June.

“The emphasis is really on the safety net,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said.

Kuehl pointed to a plan to hire 220 additional social workers to reduce child welfare caseloads and $355 million in spending aimed at reducing homelessness as reflective of the board’s priorities.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hailed it as “a balanced and responsible budget,” but warned about $200 million in state funding that the county may lose for in-home supportive services for low-income seniors.

“Real money, real serious, real lives will be affected” if “intense negotiations” fail to get those dollars back, Ridley-Thomas said.

That amount represents less than 1 percent of the overall budget. But much more could be at stake based on cuts to health and human services and housing outlined by President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration is not expected to submit its detailed budget proposal until May, but a budget blueprint called for cuts of 16.2 percent for the Department of Health and Human Services and 13.2 percent for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said her office had not mapped out the effects of those reductions, given all the uncertainties at play. However, county departments have been asked to submit budget-reduction proposals in preparation.

Los Angeles County’s budget is larger than that of a majority of states, but roughly 40 percent of it comes from federal and state funding sources.

The board is headed to Washington, D.C. next week to lobby for its priorities.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she appreciated the CEO’s discipline in adding new positions only where costs were offset and suggested that as the economy improved it was tempting to “loosen the purse strings.”

However, Barger said the specter of funding cuts and her memory of the county’s $1.3 billion budget deficit in the 1995-96 fiscal year — when more than 10,000 county jobs were cut, health centers were closed and then-CEO Sally Reed threatened to close County-USC Medical Center — prompted her to propose new checks on future spending.

Barger called for any new services to be offset by other cost cuts and an increase in the county’s 10 percent goal for “rainy day” reserves. She also proposed more rigorous analysis of programs that claim to generate cost savings.

Barger wasn’t the only one calling for changes.

Supervisor Hilda Solis pushed back on a request by the Sheriff’s Department to spend $88 million for 11,000 radios — $7,830 each — over a five-year time frame without bidding out the contract.

“High-volume purchases should be bid,” she said.

Supervisor Janice Hahn said it was time to review the county’s outside contracts and consider shifting some jobs back in house.

Under Proposition A, approved by voters in 1978, the county can contract out to fill county jobs when it’s cheaper to do so.

“There have been very few times that that analysis came back and tipped in favor of the county doing the work itself,” Hahn said.

Outside contracts under Proposition A for janitorial, food, landscaping and other services total $127 million and roughly a third of those contractors don’t pay employees the county’s living wage of $14.25 per hour, according to Hahn.

“The county needs to ensure that contractors are paying their employees a wage commensurate with supporting a family in Los Angeles County,” Hahn said.

Hahn and Kuehl both asked that one set of newly budgeted jobs in particular be filled by county employees rather than relying on nursing registries.

The Department of Health Services is set to hire 153 new “sitters” to help supervise patients who require round-the-clock attention at county medical-surgical facilities.

“Jobs like these can provide long-term stability and economic and career opportunity to county clients who are high-functioning and work ready,” Kuehl said.

The CEO’s office will consider each supervisor’s motions as part of the budget process.

Public hearings on the county spending plan are scheduled to begin May 17, when hundreds of constituents and advocates for various programs are likely to fill the board room.