Orange County supervisors Tuesday signaled their support for much of a $6.5 billion budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, but they tentatively defunded the newly constituted Office of Independent Review, which arose out of the so-called snitch scandal.
The Board of Supervisors also sounded support for substantial changes to the office of Auditor-Controller Eric Woolery, who re-elected June 5 by a 74.9 percent to 25.1 percent margin over Toni Smart, who previously directed the office’s internal audit division and filed a wrongful-termination lawsuit against Woolery earlier this year.
The 2018-19 fiscal year budget is a 4.1 percent, or $252.8 million, increase over the current year’s. Chief Executive Officer Frank Kim told the supervisors it represented the first budget since the bankruptcy in the 1990s to not include any expenses related to that scandal.
This year’s spending plan also represents the last payment — $55 million — stemming from a dispute the county lost to the state over vehicle license fee funding.
Kim characterized it as a “balanced budget that does not draw on reserves.”
The county has “been fortunate to be operating in a strong economy and the growth of property tax and other sources, and through belt-tightening, we have been able to make the final payment on the (vehicle license fee dispute),” Kim said.
“It is the first budget completely clear of the bankruptcy proceedings,” he said.
The county, however, is about $54 million shy of what it wants in its reserves, officials said.
County officials expect a $48 million increase in property tax revenue. On average, the county spends $40 million less than budgeted, so that can replenish the reserves, officials say.
Just a few months after the county hired attorney Kevin Rogan as executive director of the Office of Independent Review, which was created to oversee the sheriff’s department and Orange County District Attorney’s Office, he appears to be out of a job.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Andrew Do joined Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Michelle Steel in voting no to the office’s proposed budget. Rogan had asked to replace an executive secretary position with an investigator and wanted to hire an additional investigator.
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who is running for district attorney, criticized Rogan for not offering more specific priorities for his office for the coming fiscal year.
Do criticized Spitzer for starting a conversation irrelevant to the budgeting process and then switched from his previous support for the office and voted to defund the office. If the supervisors have a change of heart and want to keep the office when they consider a final vote on the budget June 26 then it will require support from four of the five supervisors.
Nelson said he always opposed the creation of the office because he said the first time Rogan turned his attention to the sheriff or prosecutors for an investigation they would shut him out.
Also making waves was Nelson’s request of county staff to review what the county’s requirement is regarding funding of the auditor-controller’s office.
Woolery had 438 employees listed in his budget request and was asking for $1 million more, Nelson said.
After the meeting, Nelson said Woolery’s office should basically serve as the county’s accountant with the controller’s function being a payroll administrator. The auditor is expected to make sure money isn’t missing or squandered in county departments, he said.
Nelson complained Woolery has several “political operatives” on staff, and that Woolery has been attempting to expand his authority and branch out into areas that are not part of his duties.
“When it comes time to count the beans then just count the beans,” Nelson said.
An attempt to reach Woolery through a public relations official was not successful. Nelson said he was “saddened,” however, to hear that Woolery felt the move was political payback.
“He should be the one guy who should be just calling balls and strikes, but he’s become more of a one-man propaganda machine,” Nelson said. “I was hoping this would help a discussion to get us where we need to be, which is a focus on the work.”
The supervisors also approved spending $70.5 million in mental health funding on 11 new housing projects for transients. The county’s plan also includes developing 2,700 housing units for the homeless and took steps to apply for $15.5 million in state funding for the homeless by declaring a shelter crisis.
The move came a day before U.S. District Judge David O. Carter was set to hold another hearing in the ongoing litigation to solve the county’s homeless problem. Plaintiffs sued to stop the county and surrounding municipalities from enforcing anti-camping laws unless they can show they have enough shelter for the transients within their borders.
Carter is pushing the cities and the county to determine locations for three emergency shelters for the homeless that would serve the southern, western and central regions of the county.
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