10:00 PM PDT on Friday, June 10, 2011

By IMRAN GHORI
The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County’s proposed budget calls for significant cuts to the district attorney and probation department and would reduce the hours of county employees if they refuse decreased health and retirement benefits.

With the county facing a $46.6 million budget deficit for fiscal 2011-2012, county Chief Executive Officer Greg Devereaux notes in his budget memo that he was tasked by the Board of Supervisors with taking a “hard look” at county operations.

That review discovered a cumulative structural budget deficit of $122.5 million over five years and many major needs such as an emergency radio system and pavement maintenance that have been unaddressed, he said.

The $3.8 billion budget — of which the county has discretion over only $457.3 million — proposes setting aside money for those projects while cutting 768 positions, 233 of which are actually filled.

Devereaux’s recommended budget was posted on the county’s website late Thursday just as the Board of Supervisors wrapped up a workshop providing policy direction to Devereaux on the spending plan. Another budget workshop is planned for next week.

To solve the long-term budget shortfall, Devereaux said he plans to negotiate a decrease in health-care benefits for employees and ask that they give up salary increases. He has also proposed reducing some health and retirement benefits, but with the county’s two largest unions balking at the concessions he said he could cut some employees’ hours instead.

Due to a reduction in the state vehicle tax funds, the district attorney’s office will face a cut of $2.1 million, leading to the loss of 33 positions. That will hinder the office’s ability to investigate and prosecute cases by the family violence, gangs, auto theft and identity theft units, increase the time taken to review new cases and reduce the ability to attend parole hearings for prison inmates, Devereaux said.

Noting that he already lost 78 positions over three years, District Attorney Mike Ramos said the budget would slice his department “down to the bone.”

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