If Sacramento County supervisors approve a proposed $10.7 million budget cut, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said Monday that he would release 540 inmates early from local jails.
Jones said he would have no choice but to release inmates early the first time in at least the 20 years he's been with the department because he would have to lay off 36 correctional deputies.
"I really don't want to release inmates early; it goes against the core of my being," Jones told the Board of Supervisors during the start of hearings for the county's proposed 2012-13 budget.
The county's $3.5 billion budget proposal contains a $60 million deficit for all departments. Supervisors will be looking for ways this week to fill holes in the budgets of the sheriff and District Attorney's Office, which is facing a $2.2 million deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1.
Jones said he doesn't know what types of offenders he would release early from the jails, as the department is just starting to look at the possibility. He said the releases certainly would not be done all at once, and would be done in consultation with other law enforcement agencies.
The correctional layoffs would handle about half of the sheriff's proposed deficit, Jones said. The other half would be handled through the layoff of 37 deputies in patrol services, which handles crime response and investigations.
The department would have to stop responding to certain crimes, such as burglary, and limit the number of patrols, Jones said. Patrol reductions would mean less saturation, but no areas or times would be cut specifically.
In a similar vein, District Attorney Jan Scully said if cuts proposed for her agency go through, she would have to place further reductions on the prosecution of drug and property crimes, which have already seen significant reductions because of past cuts.
"We don't have an adequate justice system for our citizens," Scully told the board.
Scully did not identify where she might make cuts if supervisors go through with the reductions.
The county is entering its fifth straight year of budget cuts, and the sheriff, the district attorney and other county departments have lost funding for about 4,000 employee positions, or 25 percent, in that time.
County Executive Brad Hudson told the board that while property tax revenue continues to decline, the picture for other revenue looks better, and the county expects its overall revenue to be about the same as the current fiscal year. But the county will see an increase in its biggest expense: personnel costs. Salary expenses are expected to go up $15 million, and retirement costs will rise $13 million.
Deputy sheriffs are getting a 5.7 percent raise in the coming fiscal year, which is the biggest reason for the jump in county salary costs, Hudson said. The deal with the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs' Association was negotiated in 2009 under Hudson's predecessor.
Retirement costs are going up because of investment losses in the pension plan and because of increased payments for a bond the county used several years ago to handle a large debt to the plan.