Los Angeles County seems prepared to avoid layoffs of any county employees over the next 12 months, with the Board of Supervisors set to approve changes Tuesday to bring the county’s planned spending to $37.6 billion for fiscal year 2020-21 — $1.5 billion higher than last year.
In a letter to the board, acting CEO Fesia Davenport, who recently replaced longtime CEO Sachi Hamai, said revenue losses were now estimated to be lower than forecast in June. Though county departments were asked to cut at least 8% from their budgets during earlier planning and Davenport mentioned “belt tightening,” proposed overall spending is higher than ever before. That is due in part to demands related to COVID-19, but many other programs slated to be cut have been restored at the urging of board members and new initiatives are also included.
“The proposed investment areas and restorations include support for seniors and those at high-risk of COVID-19, other COVID-19 responsive services including testing, contact tracing, and medical sheltering, alternatives to incarceration, oversight and accountability in support of justice system reform, affordable housing, efforts to combat homelessness, jobs, workforce development and support for small businesses,” according to the board letter.
Davenport said the outlook for funding from various federal, state and tax sources had improved since June, with an additional $273.5 million expected to be generated. The rest of the additional funding came from “funding previously set aside for the Sheriff’s Department, implementation of organizational efficiencies and departmental savings,” according to the letter.
However, more than $615 million of “found money” came from dollars not spent in the prior year. For the year that ended June 30, 2020, the county had nearly $2.2 billion left in its general fund account, an even higher total than expected when June forecasts were made.
The Sheriff’s Department had been expected to be hardest hit with layoffs, with 457 employees in the custody division highlighted at risk during the board’s last budget discussions. Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said repeatedly that he needs $400 million more than the $3.4 billion originally allocated to meet all the needs of his department, and has threatened at times to close patrol stations and make other unpopular cuts to make ends meet.
Now the sheriff will not need to lay off any employees and will even be able to fill new positions, according to the calculations of the CEO’s office. The sheriff will also get at least $86 million in additional funding — including for a long-awaited roll-out of body-worn cameras. Some of those dollars were previously frozen by the board in an effort to push Villanueva to find ways to cut overtime and save money.
“By using this funding now, and through savings achieved through attrition, the department can avert potential layoffs and retain deputy sheriff and custody assistant trainees who recently complete the training academy,” the CEO’s office said in an email to City News Service. “The Chief Executive Office continues to work closely with the department to address longstanding budget issues.”
A total of 137 child support services employee and small numbers of workers in various other departments have also been saved from layoffs under the adjusted budget.
Other significant proposed changes to the budget include:
— $374.6 million for COVID-19 testing, tracing and medical sheltering;
— an additional $120 million for housing through Project Roomkey and Housing for Health;
— $73 million for the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative; and
— another $53.5 million for the county’s Rainy Day Fund, which now totals $695.9 million.