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By Felix Adamo / The Californian
BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Budget maneuvering has begun at the county of Kern.
On Tuesday, District Attorney Lisa Green will ask the Kern County Board of Supervisors to approve the hiring of two deputy district attorneys, an investigator and a legal secretary to investigate and prosecute a growing number of crimes committed in Lerdo Jail and local community correctional facilities.
County Administrative Officer John Nilon's office is opposing the request.
Green, he said, might hire people into the new jobs only to be forced to turn around and lay off other staffers before summer's end.
The four jobs represent an $864,059 increase in spending for the district attorney, according reports from Nilon's office.
Green said the state of California is paying for the positions, reimbursing her office for the cost.
But Kern County's budget guru -- Assistant CAO Nancy Lawson -- said Green has proposed a budget for next year that is $2.1 million larger than supervisors have told her it should be.
Green's request foreshadows conflicts that are sure to develop this summer as county officials craft a budget under a gloomy financial cloud.
County leaders are facing a relatively flat revenue picture but have to find ways to make up for $30 million in annual losses at Kern Medical Center and plan for ongoing pensions costs, an upcoming Lerdo Jail expansion and future freeway construction projects.
A 5 percent budget "step-down" is needed from each department to handle those challenges in the 2014-2015 fiscal year that starts in July, county administrators argue.
But not all county departments are willing to live within that restriction.
"We respect the district attorney and (her) desire to deliver the very best service," Nilon said.
But supervisors demanded that all departments, he said, submit budgets that reduce their cost to the county's operating budget by 5 percent.
Green has state funding for the proposed jobs, Nilon said, but if she hires people to fill the positions without reducing her spending elsewhere by $2.1 million, she will put the Board of Supervisors in a bind when budget hearings begin next month.
If they have to cut millions from the District Attorney's office budget, he said, Green would have to lay off existing staff right after she hired new workers.
Or, he said, other county departments would have to slash services further to give Green what she wants.
For Green, the question is about getting her job done right.
The number of in-prison criminal cases her department handles has jumped from 140 in 2012 to 226 in 2013, she said.
"I just know that my attorneys are telling me that the caseload has become unmanageable. It's my job to get them the resources they need," she said.
Nilon said supervisors can't weigh the value of the district attorney's staff against other county priorities right now because the budget isn't yet available to them.
Green said she can't wait months to begin prosecuting the criminal cases that are backing up.
She could move current employees into the new positions if the work is so critical, Nilon said.
Green said she needs every position she has now.
"We have every attorney position filled and everybody's caseload is through the roof," she said.
Supervisors are likely to hear more such discussions from high-profile public safety leaders like Green in the coming months.
Lawson said the Kern County Sheriff's Office, the Kern County Probation Department and the Kern County Fire Department have all submitted spending plans that exceed the supervisors' required 5 percent "step-down" guideline.
All other county departments have toed the line, she said.