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County weighs cuts to sheriff, social services

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Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones told county leaders Monday that he has reduced his department’s budget gap but a $9.5 million shortfall remains that could result in department cuts.

The sheriff’s department was among other county departments that addressed the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors during its first day of budget hearings for the 2011/2012 fiscal year.

The county is facing a $90 million shortfall for the 2011/2012 fiscal year. The supervisors are expected to meet for additional hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The county has a two-budget process – the supervisors approve a first version of its budget in June and a final budget in the fall.

Sacramento County Executive Officer Steven Szalay created the proposed budget that was discussed Monday.

Jones was hesitant on Monday to say how many layoffs his department could face as a result of the cuts proposed in the budget.

After his remarks to the supervisors, he answered reporters’ questions about possible layoffs.

He said that $9.5 million in budget cuts would equate to 63 jobs. However, he refused to describe them as layoffs, saying that he would look for ways to avoid layoffs.

“I’m unwilling to accept the fact that there will be 63 layoffs,” he told reporters. “I don’t want to use it as a tactic to scare the board. I don’t want to scare all the folks in my own department.”

He said that if he cannot avoid the full $9.5 million in cuts, he would try to save some of the jobs through retirements or other methods.

Jones said that the department is understaffed to the point that it reacts to crime instead of preventing it. The department has .63 officers per 1,000 residents, he said, adding that the FBI recommends that agencies serving populations over 250,000 should have two officers for every 1,000 residents.

“Clearly, our patrol officers do a phenomenal job, as do the folks in corrections,” Jones told the supervisors. “But make no mistake, we are a department, as we stand here today, that responds to 911 calls and calls for service and warehouses prisoners.”

Monday’s presentations included the budgets for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Probation Department. Ann Edwards, the Health and Human Services director, said her department’s cuts would include $5.3 million for medical treatment for the poor.

“The medical needs in the community have not decreased,” she said. “They’re actually increasing as a result of so many folks without jobs and health insurance.”

The Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday budget hearing begins at 2 p.m. and will cover the District Attorney’s office and regional parks, as well as the role of transient occupancy tax in the budget.

The supervisors’ schedule says they may finish the budget process Tuesday, but they have also set up tentative meetings for Wednesday and Thursday if they need more time to approve the budget.

Tuesday’s hearing, as well as the tentative hearings later this week, will be held at 700 H St. in Sacramento.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. 

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