Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich spoke frankly about the need for cooperation and consolidation to solve the government’s budget crisis at a luncheon Wednesday afternoon sponsored by the SCV and Castaic Chambers of Commerce.
More than 300 people crowded into the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Valencia to hear the Supervisor speak at the luncheon, which was sponsored by Boston Scientific.
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From the moment he was introduced by Boston Scientific President Michael Onuscheck, Antonovich targeted the subject at the top of everyone’s mind – the current fiscal crisis faced by the nation and the state.
Pointing out that “80 percent of the budget is personnel,” Antonovich said that the only way to solve the current fiscal crisis is to increase productivity, increase technology, consolidate and eliminate duplicate efforts by separate departments, using the example of the Franchise Tax Board and the Board of Equalization.
He also suggested that commissioners, who are often friends of politicians or retired politicians, lose their six-figure salaries for attending one meeting a month and instead be paid $100 per diem for attending.
What concerns Antonovich and his fellow supervisors are the unknown costs of programs that are being shifted from the state to local responsibility, such as prisoners moving from state facilities to county prisons.
“We’ve been cutting back, but the state is still spending,” he said. “We’ve given direction to the sheriff’s department that there be no cuts and if there are adjustments, they cannot affect service in the unincorporated areas of the county.”
Construction of new fire stations in the Santa Clarita Valley – three of them within the Santa Clarita city limits and three of them in the unincorporated areas – are progressing and Antonovich had high praise for firefighters and their ability to conduct investigations in a timely manner.
“The US Forest Service still has not completed its investigation of the Station Fire,” he explained. “The County did their investigation and made their report in four to six weeks. But they’re still working on it in Washington.”
While some recommendations made by county firefighters are moving forward – he used the ability to keep firefighting helicopters in the air after sundown as one example – other procedures are dead in the water.
“If the Forest Service wants to do something, they have to call someone in Idaho, who calls Washington and then gets back to the local agency with direction. That’s just stupid.”
He ended his comments on fire safety with words of praise for the Urban Search and Rescue Teams that recently went on rescue and relief missions to earthquake victims in Haiti , New Zealand and Japan.
Of course, he couldn’t help but share his pride for a pet project, the DISARM program that blends the resources of local law enforcement with county and state agencies such as Probation, Department of Children and Family Services and Corrections to conduct periodic sweeps to ensure probationers and parolees are in compliance with the terms of their sentences.
“Since its inception in 2000, the program has resulted in 14,500 arrests and, more importantly, 7,300 guns confiscated,” he said.
Some of the improvements Antonovich noted in county recreational facilities included a new mussel inspection program at Castaic Lake to ensure that no boats bring in contamination from other bodies of water; a $1 million grant to Placerita Nature Center for new exhibits and the continuation of their environmental stewardship; a new $7 million Vasquez Rocks Nature Center which will open in spring 2012; the completion of new roofing ($850,000) on the historic buildings within William S. Hart Mansion/Museum complex in Newhall and a planned $1 million improvement that will change the face of the park and entrances, due for completion in 2012.
Antonovich also discussed the proposed high speed rail project that will run between Bakersfield and Los Angeles; noting that both routes – the one that would touch on the towns of Palmdale and Lancaster before heading further north, and the route that would parallel the I-5 corridor – are being discussed. He pointed out that the state agency has ultimate authority over the land use for this project and noted there are “no checks and balances” – in what could be an unspoken nudge for those in the room to get involved if they wanted input.
The costs of illegal immigrants to Los Angeles County residents is something of critical interest to Antonovich as well as those in attendance. He shared that food stamps given to the children of parents in America illegally were costing upwards of $640 million a year and in August, a survey of county jails revealed that 29 percent of the jail population was comprised of illegals, to the fiscal tune of $550 million each year. He added that health, education or rehabilitation costs are not included in that figure.
Antonovich renewed his plea that the federal government do something about the growing problem, which has a daily impact on residents.
“Those at the end of the food chain don’t have the resources to deal with that problem,” he said.