VENTURA COUNTY: Hufford Submits Scaled-Down Budget
Hoping to halt Ventura County's penchant for overspending and draining reserves, county Chief Administrative Officer Harry Hufford presented a $1 billion budget to supervisors this week that includes cuts to a wide array of programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. Hufford's budget calls for a $2.6 million reduction in mental health services and the closure of three public health clinics. Closing the facilities is expected to save the county an additional $1 million. "Do I enjoy cutting services? Not particularly," Hufford said, adding, "[M]y job is to present a balanced budget. ... We don't want to hear the same thing next year, that the budget is out of control." After last year's $15 million settlement with the federal government over improper Medicare billing and $10 million in related costs, many administrators expected the cuts. In a memo attached to the budget, Hufford called his plan "realistic," not some "cry-wolf" scenario. Supervisors typically have supported Hufford's efforts, although some decried his decision to slash health care funding (Talev, 6/13).
The Supervisor Strikes Back
Supervisor John Flynn, backed by a number of advocates for the mentally ill, said he plans to fight any cuts to county health care, specifically the mental health department, the Ventura County Star reports. Flynn said he would refuse to vote for any budget that reduces services for the county's "most vulnerable" departments and residents. He added that bureaucratic blunders and board mistakes already had hurt the county's mental health system. Hufford had asked Health Care Agency Director Pierre Durand for a proposal to cut $3.6 million from the agency's $250 million budget. However, Durand offered only cuts to mental health programs (Koehler, 6/8). Flynn has proposed using $7.5 million of the county's share of the tobacco settlement to shore up the budget. He said, "I want [Hufford] to look at every conceivable pot of money there is before cutting so deeply into the Health Care Agency," adding, "You don't want to punish the departments that cut costs and bring revenue to the county government" (Koehler, Ventura County Star, 6/15).