Sacramento County supervisors cut $3 million Tuesday for criminal rehabilitation and aid for the poor and gave it to the Sheriff's Department in an attempt to avoid layoffs.
The action came as supervisors voted 5-0 to approve the $3.5 billion county budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Sheriff Scott Jones had warned a day earlier that he could lose almost half of his patrol staff under a proposed $10 million cut to his department. He said the money that supervisors found Tuesday would allow him to hold off on layoffs until September, when supervisors revisit the budget.
Supervisors vowed to find another $7 million by then to eliminate the gap in his budget. They identified the sheriff's shortfall this week as their most important budget challenge.
"I'm pretty convinced that number is real and they can't make it up on their own," Board Chairwoman Susan Peters said.
Other than the Sheriff's Department, county departments expect few if any layoffs in the coming year.
The sheriff's deficit is largely the result of a salary increase for deputy sheriffs and the loss of a federal grant.
The $7 million shortfall assumes the Deputy Sheriff's Association approves a tentative agreement with the county that would mean giving up most of the 4.5 percent salary increase that had been planned for next year.
Jones is counting on $5 million savings from that agreement. The membership's vote is expected next week.
The money tapped by supervisors includes $1 million previously budgeted by County Executive Brad Hudson to rehabilitate offenders shifted to county supervision under a 2011 law.
The decision leaves $500,000 for such programs, which Hudson said would go to drug and alcohol treatment.
The county expects to receive $36.5 million from the state to house and supervise such offenders.
The county has been criticized since the 2011 law went into effect for not providing enough funding for mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment and other services to help break the cycle of crime.
The county has instead dedicated most of the money it receives from the state to the Sheriff's Department to incarcerate offenders.
County Counsel John Whisenhunt told supervisors that using the state funding to shore up the sheriff's deficit is appropriate considering that the state has not provided enough funding to the sheriff for his costs associated with the 2011 law.
Jones estimates that state payments fall short of his costs by up to $10 million a year.
Supervisors took $2 million from the county's General Assistance program to give to the sheriff. General Assistance is often called the aid program of last resort and provides a small monthly stipend to unemployed residents who aren't eligible for other assistance.
The risk in taking that money is that the payments are required by the state. If the General Assistance budget comes up short, the county will have to find money elsewhere to fill the gap.
Hudson told supervisors that the aid budget has been volatile in recent years both overfunded and underfunded. His budget proposal had increased General Assistance funding by $10 million next year because it was underfunded this year.
Hudson said he saw "some risk" in the supervisors' action, but it represented one of the best remaining options to help the sheriff.
Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.