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More layoffs for sheriff’s department

County facing $28 million shortfall

POSTED December 7, 2010 9:44 p.m.

In a 4-to-1 split the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors voted to approve another round of budgetary reductions at the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department that will force the layoffs of an additional 23 employees, including 14 patrol deputies.

The most recent round of cuts means the department will have lost 25 percent of its work force over the last two years.

The 23 layoffs approved Tuesday come on top of 27 approved by the board in November. The cuts are being made to help close a budget shortfall for the sheriff department’s 2011/12 fiscal year.

All of the county’s departments have been tasked with making deep cuts to their budgets as the county tries to stay afloat amid rising pension and workers compensation expenses and declining revenue.

“There is no good solution here,” acknowledged Supervisor Vito Chiesa. “We’re not going to create more money and the state is not going to give us any. The situation is only going to get worse.

“We realize we’re tying one hand behind their backs and asking them to do their job,” Chiesa said.

The county is facing a $28 million shortfall for the 2011/2012 fiscal year. County Chief Executive Officer Richard Robinson said the county will pull $14 million from reserves, but will still be left with a $14 million funding shortage.

In the wake of that shortfall, Robinson has asked the county’s departments to make some drastic cuts, including an 8.8 percent budget reduction for the sheriff’s department.

“We can’t address a $14 million budget shortfall without adversely effecting public safety,” Robinson said.

Sheriff Adam Christianson came to the board in November with two budget options. One was for the 8.8 percent reduction, in which 50 employees would need to be let go. The second option was to cut the department’s budget by 4.5 percent and allow the department to retain 100 percent of the year end savings, instead of 75 percent.

The board balked at the 50 layoffs in November saying it was a rushed reaction and instead gave the go ahead to eliminate 27 positions and re-convene the matter in December.

Tuesday, the sheriff’s department tried again to lessen the cuts by requesting only 4.7 percent be cut, but the board felt it would be too draining to the county’s other departments.

The lone dissenter in Tuesday’s vote was Supervisor William O’Brien, who felt any cuts would be premature until all possible revenue creating sources had been explored.

“We need revenue and there are contract cities that are not paying the full costs,” O’Brien said of the cities that contract police services with the sheriff’s department. “The unincorporated areas are subsidizing them and in this day and age we can’t afford to do it. We have to turn over every stone and look for ways to generate revenue.”

Among O’Brien’s suggestions of possible revenue creating income is a regionalization of some of the specialized units in law enforcement. For example, O’Brien pitched an idea for exploration that the Special Weapons and Tactics teams in the Turlock, Modesto and Ceres police departments, as well as the sheriff’s, be regionalized into one unit. Under this kind of regionalization, the cities would contract with the sheriff’s department or vice versa when the SWAT services are needed.

“We can’t afford to do business as normal,” O’Brien said.

The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Association had been actively mustering support from the community prior to Tuesday’s meeting and deputy Darwin Hatfield had some chastising words for the board.

“I swore an oath to protect the people of this county,” Hatfield said. “The sad thing is that I’m here today to protect them from this board. When you talk about cutting pay and people, you need to look at yourselves.

“I say this as a deputy,” Hatfield continued, “that if these cuts are made, I urge all law-abiding and sane citizens to arm themselves because we won’t be able to answer the calls.”

Prior to the vote to lay-off 23 sheriff’s employees, the board unanimously approved an agenda item to restructure the pension plan of the deputies. The measure was taken because the county had reached an impasse with the Sworn Deputies Association. The re-structuring will not affect any current employees and will only be implemented for new hires. The new pension plan will pay out at a 2002 level. The majority of the other unions in the county had either approved similar changes or were in tentative agreements, Robinson said.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail sstafford@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.

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