10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, May 26, 2011

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

A week after introducing a reform proposal to limit San Bernardino County supervisors’ use of discretionary funds to hire employees, Board Chairwoman Josie Gonzales announced she will reduce her staff.

Gonzales also wants to eliminate the $450,000 in discretionary funds supervisors receive for projects or community groups in their districts in anticipation of a fiscal 2011-2012 budget shortfall.

Last week, Gonzales criticized the supervisors, herself included, for using those funds to supplement their staffing. She suggested a ban. The county budget already provides $8.9 million a year for board staff.

Her reform proposals — which also touch on staff participation in campaigns — will be discussed at a future board workshop that has yet to be scheduled, said county spokesman David Wert.

In a news release this week, Gonzales said she plans to eliminate three positions from her nine-member staff for the next fiscal year.

Lisha Smith, Gonzales’ deputy chief of staff, said Gonzales felt it was the responsible thing to do — even though the proposal has not been adopted by the full board.

And with the county looking at possible cuts due to a $47.6 million budget deficit, Gonzales believes the $2.25 million the board receives annually in discretionary funds could be better spent elsewhere, she said.

“There are more pressing needs, and if those funds can go towards (the general fund budget) to provide those essential services for our taxpayers, then that’s the direction we should go,” Smith said.

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said he doesn’t use discretionary funds for staff, but he said each supervisor should have that option. He added that board staff provide valuable services to constituents, especially in a district such as his which is the largest in the county and includes many unincorporated communities.

He said it’s Gonzales’ prerogative to make cuts to her budget but “to try and impose it on everyone else in such an aggressive and emphatic way, I think is grandstanding.”

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