The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors gave the initial green light Tuesday for the sheriff’s department to start the process of laying-off 27 employees. Whether that number will nearly double, decrease or stay the same will depend on budget negotiations between the sheriff’s department and the county’s chief executive office over the next month.
The 27 layoff notices are just slightly more than half of the 50 positions that were identified by the sheriff’s department as necessary reductions in force to bridge the department’s budget deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The layoff notices would be effective Jan. 29, 2011.
The combination of declining revenue from property and sales taxes, coupled with increased pension costs have the county in an even tighter budget pinch during these troubled economic times.
Given the very real reality of a funding shortfall, Chief Executive Officer Richard Robinson tasked the county’s department heads a few weeks back to start thinking of ideas and methods to cut their 2011-12 budgets and warned big cuts could be coming in the summer.
In the budget predictions the sheriff’s department could be facing a reduction of $6.6 million, or a reduction of 8.8 percent. With that figure in mind Sheriff Adam Christianson and his team came up with two approaches for the board to consider.
The first proposal was a worst case scenario, in which the department would lay off 49 positions and eliminate one vacant position. Additionally, the department would reduce lobby hours and have property crimes investigated by the already over-extended patrol units.
“These drastic cuts jeopardize public safety, our community, and officer safety,” Christianson said.
If this approach at bridging the budget gap is enacted it would effectively dismantle some of the department’s specialty units such as the gang suppression unit and the rural crime task force, because the department would need to deploy the remaining deputies to patrol shifts, Christianson explained.
“These are cuts that go beyond our ability to adequately protect the community,” the sheriff said. “There will be changes and the community deserves to know what those changes will be.”
As a countermeasure, Christianson put forth a second proposal to the board that would cut 4.5 percent of the department’s budget instead of the 8.8 percent and would allow the department to retain 100 percent of the year end savings, as opposed to the current rate of 75 percent. This option would save $3.36 million and allow for the department to save the positions of 15 deputies, six sergeants, and one lieutenant.
“At some point you have to draw a line in the sand and say I can’t go any further,” Christianson said.
The supervisors blanched at the drastic nature of the first plan and said it was premature to issue such deep cuts, though they recognized the Catch-22 of the situation.
“I don’t feel it’s appropriate to vote on the proposal at this time,” said supervisor Will O’Brein. “It’s too drastic as proposed. But I understand that if they don’t make the cuts now, then there will be no savings and that will make the cuts worse next year.”
Supervisor Jim DeMartini questioned whether the proposal was a fully-thought out plan or if it was a bit of political grandstanding.
“Why is the gang unit being eliminated and the dive team and the equestrian unit not even being talked about?” DeMartini asked.
Robinson suggested the sheriff’s department could find other alternatives to save funds, like consolidating the SWAT team with those in neighboring cities. He also put forth the idea of a permanent 10 percent reduction in salaries, an idea that elicited groans of disgust from the numerous law enforcement members in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.
The chamber at Tuesday’s meeting was filled with law enforcement and community members who echoed one another in support of public safety.
Ceres Police Chief Art de Werk cautioned that making such deep cuts to law enforcement could cause the county to “give up ground to the criminals that will be ground lost forever.”
During the public comment period, resident after resident took their turn at the lectern to say enough is enough.
“What are we going to do?” asked Stanislaus County resident Mary Bizzini. “If you keep cutting law enforcement, we will be well on our way towards a vigilante society.”
The board voted 5-0 to proceed cautiously with the less drastic plan and grant the sheriff the authority to send out the 27 layoff notices.
A continued discussion on the department’s budget and any changes to the layoff notices will be taken up again by the board at their Dec. 7 meeting.
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