Despite County Executive Jay Orr’s optimistic view that significant savings can be found in the county’s public safety budgets, Sheriff Stan
Sniff is considerably less confident.
Orr is focusing on the public safety budgets, which have grown in the past several years, while the other departments have taken cuts of nearly 45 percent or more since 2008.
But Sniff emphasizes that his budget, as most departments, is largely composed of personnel costs, and the Board of Supervisors and County Executive set those levels through the negotiated contracts.
“It is no secret at this point that the budget ‘challenge’ is a product of rapidly increasing labor costs as a result of [memorandums of understanding] previously negotiated. The ‘increased costs’ by county departments — especially safety departments — are directly related to labor costs and are completely outside of their control,” Sniff said in an email. “Labor costs have grown, ranging from 43 percent to 65 percent, over the past eight years and these costs drive 90 percent of our safety budgets, and will continue to increase this next [fiscal year] … We’re being squeezed by labor costs.”
As an example, Sniff pointed out that the cost of a deputy sheriff, at the top of the pay scale, driving a squad car is more than $100,000 annually. “There are county benefits and overtime, too,” he added. “This is good for recruiting, but it was a profound decision.”
Substantial reductions in the sheriff’s budget will ultimately result in reduced hiring, Sniff fears. For 2016-17, Orr is already recommending to eliminate the goal of hiring more deputies in the unincorporated areas, including sharp reductions in unincorporated patrol staffing, or potential closure and consolidation of patrol stations within Riverside County.
The current ratio is 1.04 deputies per 1,000 residents in the unincorporated areas of the county. In 2013 and again last fall, the supervisors restated the goal of achieving 1.2 deputies.
According to Orr’s memorandum to the board, the $40 million cost to fund health care for the county’s jail inmates is the major reason no new funding is available, and reductions or limits are necessary.
However, Sniff takes umbrage that these costs were unexpected and said the Sheriff’s Department is not responsible.
“The [Prison Law Office] jail inmate health care settlement occurred as a direct result of [former] CEO actions over the strong public objections by the sheriff in 2011. These objections were well documented in the media at the time and represent the kind of poor public policy that should not be repeated in the future by Riverside County,” he said.
Regardless of his disagreements with how the county’s budget problems are portrayed, Sniff continues to aver his support of whatever budget decision the board will make. Nevertheless, as a countywide elected official, he stressed his responsibility to the public and the board.
“The Sheriff’s Department will follow board direction for next fiscal year, just as it has each year, but there are clear ramifications, intended or unintended,” he added. “I won’t be a wallflower.