Landfills

Yesterday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting had a rather dull agenda.  But, two articles were generated.  One on internal borrowing and another on DNA grants.

Utilizing the landfill escrow funds as a financing resource was the topic of the discussion in the OC Register article.

With a member of the public ready to follow District Attorney Tony Rackauckas on the DNA topic, I thought I would give him a chance to get in front of the topic of the prior day’s article in the LA Times (see http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-oc-dna-database5-2009oct05,0,4612921.story).  His comments are in the LA Daily News article.

The Angels are in the playoffs!  Our Look Back reminds us that this is not the first time in recent years.  Go Angels! 

O.C. borrows $22 million from landfills to pay for tech upgrades

Most supervisors agree borrowing internally is better to going to Wall Street. But some concern is expressed.

By JENNIFER MUIR

The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA The county is looking to local landfills for a $22 million loan to help pay for information technology improvements, saying an anemic economy and delays in receiving property tax and state revenue are making it harder for the county to cover the bill on its own.

The county had planned to pay for multi-million upgrades to its property tax and assessment tax management systems and county personnel and payroll systems from general fund reserves. But the economy tanked, cutting the reserves from $290 million in June of 2007 to a projected $190 million by the end of this fiscal year.

And when county budget folks looked at options for getting the money elsewhere, they discovered that getting a loan or negotiating a bond sale or striking a capitalized lease purchase deal was either not possible or too expensive.

“We’re trying to preserve our cash reserves in the event the economy gets worse,” county Chief Financial Officer Robert Franz said.

So they looked to their own books to find ways to finance the projects and saw a big pot of money – some $110 million — sitting in an OC Waste and Recycling fund that’s dedicated to covering the costs associated with closing down a landfill. The cash comes from a portion of landfill fees, which are paid by customers such as contractors and cities.

Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to allow the internal borrowing. It’s not the first time the county has allowed such a transfer, but it’s unusual and hasn’t been done regularly since before the county declared bankruptcy in 1994, says Franz. In fact, it’s the bankruptcy that makes other options, such as leasing to own the information systems, a problem because the county doesn’t have remaining single assets they can put up for collateral. All of them already are being used as collateral to finance the bankruptcy, he says.

The county will pay back the landfill fund over five years, with interest – an arrangement that supervisor John Moorlach touted for saving money.

“If we borrow from ourselves, we’re the best credit we know,” Moorlach said. “We’re not doing this because we’re draining down cash, we’re doing this as a financing opportunity so we don’t have to pay Wall Street.”

Supervisor Janet Nguyen opposed the plan, saying the county first needs a policy on when internal borrowing should be allowed. In July, supervisors approved allowing internal borrowing for cash flow purposes, such as meeting payroll and issuing property tax refunds on time. Tuesday’s decision now allows the county to borrow for a capital project, and Nguyen wonders without a policy in place what’s next?

“Do we then borrow OC Parks money and put it into the Harbor Patrol?” Nguyen asked. “I think there needs to be a clear policy from this board on (the difference between) what it wants and what is needs.”

County staff promised to come back to the board with a policy, but described the need for the funding as “urgent.” Delaying upgrades to the systems could cost more than finding a way to pay for them now, they said.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7813 or jmuir@ocregister.com

Feds give Orange County about $2 million in grants for DNA programs

Daily News of Los Angeles  Wire Services

SANTA ANA – Orange County supervisors accepted about $2 million in grants on Tuesday to expand the county’s crime-fighting DNA programs.

The U.S. Department of Justice will give the county $1,499,930 to improve its DNA programs and $475,294 to help clear a backlog in DNA-related cases.

The funding will enable the county to hire forensic scientists and two other technical experts to work crime cases that need DNA evidence to solve them, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas told the supervisors at their board meeting Tuesday.

The county analyzed 3,800 DNA samples from crimes last year, and Rackauckas said he expect that number will jump to 26,000 by 2011.

The extra help will lead to a 15 percent reduction in turn-around time for analysis of DNA in violent crime cases and an 80 percent reduction in finishing analysis of DNA of property crime cases, Rackauckas said.

“There are lots of benefits to this. It’s a big step forward,” Rackauckas said.

The $475,294 grant will help the county tackle more cold cases.

“Our backlog in property crimes is down to nothing now so we’re working on cold cases,” he said.

Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach asked Rackauckas what he thought about the district attorney’s office nearly quadrupling its DNA database over the last nine months. Prosecutors have about 15,000 profiles in the database, which has grown as prosecutors agree to drop cases if defendants agree to submit their DNA.

“I thought it was an interesting article,” Rackauckas said, referring to a Los Angeles Times story. “Of course, there are some people who don’t appreciate what we do … But I think that database is very beneficial. It’s not a rogue database.”

Rackauckas said county, federal and state standards govern how genetic evidence is used.

“It’s very carefully done and handled,” he said. “We don’t get any more from these analyses than we would from a fingerprint.”

Supervisor Chris Norby acknowledged the fears of some who think the government will use the information improperly.

“There’s always going to be this fear that it can be abused. I understand the concern and I’m glad it’s there, because it keeps a check on us,” Norby said. “But I think the potential for DNA to exonerate people” is equally important.

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

October 6

2004

A new columnist for the OC Register, Frank Mickadeit, wrote “Postseason is scalping season at the Big A.”  Now that our beloved Angels are in the playoffs, if anyone has an extra ticket to sell, please don’t hesitate to call.  Anyway, Frank attended the game on October 5, 2004.

            Among the folks I saw at the Big A yesterday afternoon was county Treasurer John Moorlach, who, his spokesman Brett Barbre assured me, was officially off the clock but was nonetheless selflessly making sure that the correct property taxes are being paid on the stadium.

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