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California County's Cuts Called a Safety Threat

Black Voice News.com, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: May 11, 2009

The shout out for and against budget cuts to the Riverside County Sheriffs Department and the district attorneys office got louder and uglier Tuesday as supervisors tightened the screws on closing a $130 million budget gap projected for fiscal year beginning July 1.

Expect budget negotiations to get even testier if the swirling maelstrom surrounding two days of hearings is any indication. The proposed budget tentatively approved by supervisors could spur almost 1,000 layoffs, close a Banning correctional facility, slash patrols in unincorporated Riverside County, close the Indio coroners office and shutter seven fire stations. Supervisors asked all departments to cut their county funding budgets by 10 percent. District Attorney Rod Pacheco whose budget came in almost $12 million over the 10% target fired back calling the cuts a threat to public safety.

Our office is not a widget factory, he concluded in his presentation to supervisors. Our office is here to render justice, and if that means that somethings in the way, we are going to go through it.

Sheriff Stanley Sniff facing a $66 million shortfall warned the proposed cuts would set off an exodus of experienced deputies and supervisors and undermine the safety of county residents. Im concerned about cutting bone and muscle. I will have no choice but to reign in services. Sniff and Pacheco charged they are being asked to bear an unfair share of budget cuts for the coming fiscal year.

Supervisors Marion Ashley, Jeff Stone and Roy Wilson sided with the two. Ashley pushed back claiming ongoing union concessions would make up nearly $78 million in shortfalls for those departments.

We are going to have to work together to do something about controlling costs of wages, roll them back a bit or were not going to be able to maintain core services.

But supervisors Bob Buster and John Tavaglione werent sympathetic. I tire frankly of hearing this over and over again, because I sit here and know its not true, said Bob Buster. We cant go along with these old political maneuverings. The situation deserves leaders that can rise to the occasion.

Ashley and some people in Perris and Moreno Valley (which contracts for Riverside sheriffs services) see a two-edge sword. While crime is drop

ping in Riverside County reflecting a national trend, a weak and worsening economy could spark a reversal. Many Black and brown neighborhoods remain under siege. Theres a lot of unemployment and uncertainty out here, said Moreno Valley business owners Kerry and Maria Davis whose business Postal Etc. was robbed last year. The Davis say now is not the time to cut back on patrols. Its important that our leaders strike a equitable balance between safety and fiscal responsibility.

Tavaglione and Buster urged Sniff and Pacheco to reconsider their opposition and called on board members to insist the two department heads comply with the proposed cuts.

Why cant we prioritize? added Buster. Ten percent. We can do that. Theyre doing that everywhere. Corporations are doing that.

Tavaglione asked county staff to evaluate the fees charged to cities that contract with the Sheriffs Department and see if they are adequate.

While supervisors were at odds over the sheriff and district attorneys budgets, they praised Fire Chief John Hawkins whom they said set a shining example of how a manager can cut costs while maintaining core services. Were dealing with nickels and dimes, in fact we need to think with a penny mentality so we keep the county afloat, said Hawkins. The fire department is facing a $12.8 million dollar shortfall.

Under a revised plan Hawkins proposed $5 million in staffing cuts. The offer would stave off closing seven fire stations and make other non-essential cuts.

Stone suggested dipping into county reserves to pay for the public safety shortfall. He said he is optimistic that the countys financial picture will brighten by the end of the year. But other supervisors and county budget staff urged caution saying a quick economic recovery is not imminent. Supervisors voted 4-to-1 in favor of offering an early retirement to some employees in the district attorneys office. The sheriffs department was directed to devise a staggered retirement plan that could help plug the gap.

County supervisors are in negotiations with three employee unions over cuts. They plan on adopting a final budget June 16.

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