A pit bull greets sheriff's Deputy Michelle Allen as she and other officers respond to a domestic dispute in south Sacramento.

Sacramento County sheriff warns of big patrol cuts at budget hearing

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 11, 2013 - 4:03 pm | Page 1B

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones warned supervisors Monday he would have to slash patrol services nearly in half to absorb a proposed $10 million cut in his budget.

Jones asked the Board of Supervisors to find money to close his shortfall during the county's first day of hearings on its $3.5 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

An improved economy has led to few or no proposed budget cuts for most county departments. But Jones faces a $15 million deficit because of a loss in federal funding and a salary increase for deputy sheriffs, among other factors.

A tentative agreement between the county and Deputy Sheriff's Association that involves smaller pay increases could save $5 million for the department, Jones said. The association is voting on the proposal and should have a decision next week.

County Executive Brad Hudson said last week that he thinks the sheriff can absorb the proposed cuts without layoffs in a budget of over $400 million.

But Jones disagreed Monday, telling supervisors after years of budget cuts he would have no choice.

"I am the bearer of bad news," Jones said. "I hate that."

Supervisors in past years have gone out of their way to find extra money for the sheriff and other law enforcement departments. They may comb through other department budgets this week with an eye toward savings that can be used for the sheriff.

If he has to cut $10 million, Jones said he would lay off 13 deputies and eliminate 60 vacant positions. But the sheriff said he relies on funding for those vacancies to pay for 105 retired deputies who work on call at the county's two jails at a lower cost than full-time employees who receive benefits.

Eliminating that funding would mean losing those 118 workers, Jones said. He said he would replace the retirees at the jail with 105 of the 261 deputies who currently work on patrol.

The deputies would move to corrections to handle jail staffing, Jones said. He said he knows his proposal will open him up to charges of fear mongering, but he can't afford staff losses at the jails.

He said he must maintain staffing at the jails to handle an increase in inmates, including more violent ones, who have been shifted to his cells instead of state prisons.

Supervisors, who did not question Jones' proposed cuts, complained repeatedly about the state's decision to shift offenders to county jails. The state did so in 2011 in anticipation of a federal court decision calling for a reduction in prison crowding.

County officials complain that they do not receive enough money from the state to pay for incarceration, medical needs, probation and rehabilitation of the inmates sentenced or released from prison under the 2011 law.

Supervisor Don Nottoli asked County Counsel John Whisenhunt what legal options the county might have to challenge the law. Whisenhunt said few legal options exist and questions should be resolved in the political arena.

It's not clear where supervisors might turn to fund the sheriff's requests. Two other law-enforcement department heads, District Attorney Jan Scully and Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale, told the board Monday that they can't afford any more cuts.

Scully said she can handle about $2 million in cuts without layoffs.

Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.

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