WOODLAND — The public is “in jeopardy” after 10 Yolo County sheriff’s deputies got the ax Monday, Sheriff Ed Prieto told The Enterprise. And the bad news isn’t over: The county must now grapple with a $13 million shortfall expected to hit next year.
An $800,000 deficit unexpectedly opened up this year, forcing the layoffs, Prieto told the Yolo County Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting.
“We need them. The community needs them,” Prieto said of the deputies.
Yolo supervisors got a first look at a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Again, more money would head out than would come in, so cuts need to be made. The county expects to spend roughly $306 million, but take in only $293 million, leaving supervisors $13.1 million short.
The layoffs, however, were needed this year to bring the Sheriff’s Department back into the black. Prieto’s department boasted about 32 deputies two years ago, he said. Before Monday, cuts whittled their ranks down to 28. Now he commands 17 or 18.
He laid off deputies guarding the court. However, state law forces the sheriff to protect the courthouse, so Prieto moved deputies from the field. That means weaker protection for the community at large.
“The concept that we do more with less is absolutely untrue,” Prieto said “You do less with less; it’s that simple, and that’s what we’re doing — we’re doing less with less officers.”
Sheriff’s employees got a 4.6 percent raise this year. The bump in pay, however, came after the sheriff submitted and the board approved the department’s $26.5 million budget. So Prieto started $700,000 to $800,000 in the hole.
The sheriff nipped other areas of his budget as well. He cut deputies’ shifts from 12 to eight hours to avoid overtime. That saved the county about $15,000 last month. If extrapolated over the rest of the budget year, which extends through June, the sheriff will save $75,000.
“A major cost with us is overtime, probably in the neighborhood of $300,000 for 36 officers,” Prieto said.
With another multimillion-dollar deficit looming, Prieto’s “big fear is that we’re going to have to lay off more deputies” or close most of the Walter Leinberger minimum-security jail, which can house 140 inmates.
A $13 million deficit isn’t the entire picture, County Administrator Patrick Blacklock told the board. If they choose, supervisors can eliminate vacant positions to save $5.3 million to bring the total gap to $7.8 million. They also could toss in $4.5 million from special pots of money, like cigarette taxes, to bring that down to around $3.3 million.
However, Blacklock added, supervisors probably won’t slash all vacant positions. Officials haven’t studied the positions closely yet, but some may be required by state law.
“While they ultimately will be a tool,” he said, “we don’t know the extent to which they will be a tool.”
The economy and resultant loss of property and sales tax revenues have hammered Yolo County’s workforce. Nearly 1,800 workers called Yolo County home three years ago. Today, that’s down more than one-quarter to 1,321. Those include vacancies, however.
Under Blacklock’s plan, the county’s departments will now refine their budgets to get a better idea if that $13 million figure is correct. Those preliminary requested budgets are due March 11. Final versions come in April 8.
Staff will then give supervisors an overview of the 2011-12 budget on May 3. The county administrator’s recommended budget is scheduled for printing May 30. Then, in mid-June supervisors will conduct a hearing to make any changes, and pass a final budget.
State law requires counties to pass a balanced budget by June 30.
— Reach Jonathan Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8052. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprise.com