Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA County budget proposes hiring hundreds of nurses, social workers

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Thanks to increased sales and property tax revenues, Los Angeles County CEO Bill Fujioka Monday proposed a $26.1 billion dollar budget that includes 1,345 new jobs. The Department of Health Services would see the bulk of them.

737 new nurses and support staff would replace part time RN’s hired by the county on a daily basis, said Chief Nursing Officer Vivian Branchick.  “When you have your own employees, they have more commitment to patients,” she said.

Fujioka conceded hiring so many full time county nurses is a significant shift in policy. But he said the move is designed to help LA County compete for newly insured patients under the Affordable Care Act. About 300,000 people currently enrolled in county healthcare programs have the option of selecting a provider other than LA County.

“We want to keep them,” Fujioka said. The initial net cost of the new nurses would be $17 million, he said. Supervisors, which must approve the budget, did not immediately react to the proposal.

Under Fujioka’s proposed 2014-15 budget, the total number of budgeted county positions would rise from 103,678 to 105,023 – a 1.3 percent increase. Highlights:

  • Department of Children and Family Services: 100 new social worker positions and 26 support staff “to reduce caseloads and improve child safety.” The proposal follows the release of a blue ribbon report that found myriad problems at the agency charged with protecting children in foster care and other vulnerable situations.
  • Sheriff’s Department: 189 new positions, mostly to implement the recommendations of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, which found “a persistent pattern of unreasonable force” by deputies against inmates. 35 positions will be in the newly created Inspector General’s office.
  • Mental Health Department: 47 positions. “This includes additional social workers” to help with the “growing demand for mental health services.”

(Here's a video on how LA County creates a budget for an often byzantine organization that provides an array services across more than 4,000 square miles).

The budget projects sales and property tax revenues will rise about four percent in the coming year. “That’s overly conservative,” said Chris Thornberg of Beacon Economics.

Thornberg, whose firm does consulting work for the county, said newly assessed property values would likely bring in more tax revenue to the county than has been projected. Fujioka acknowledged the county must reassess the value of 345,000 homes that likely lost value during the recession.

“Stating how many will have an increase in value and how much that increase will be is a very difficult prediction,” he said. “It would be unwise to guess at this point.”

Other budget highlights:

  • All county employees will see a 2% cost of living increase October 1, and a second 2% cost of living increase April 1, under labor contracts.
  • Public library hours restored. The budget restores $3.6 million in funding to the library budget.

The county faces continuing challenges, Fujioka said. Prison realignment has dumped thousands of prisoners on the county, pension funds have unfunded liabilities and “lots of old county buildings” need to be fixed.

But LA County, like most local governments, is in much better shape than it was just a few years ago. In 2010, the county faced a $492 million dollar deficit. This budget is balanced.

Fujioka still closely watches the economy.

“My biggest concern is whether the economy is truly growing,” he said. “Have we hit the point of stabilization?”

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