Cut to Death
State budget decisions complicate the county picture on gangs, drugs.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
The only thing county officials agree on, regarding how the state budget will hit their coffers, is that nobody knows what their departments will look like next month.
“Everything’s so nebulous at the moment, it’s hard to say what the impact of state cuts will be at this juncture,” says Cmdr. Jerry Teeter of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department. Adds County Administrative Office Analyst Liz Reta, “Even though the state budget has been passed, we have to have analysis done by county departments before we can know for sure.”
Statewide programs getting the axe include California Council on Criminal Justice and the Governor’s Office of Gang and Youth Violence Policy. Much of the funding for the state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, which helped orchestrate the takedown of key members of the Nuestra Familia gang in Monterey County and across California, will also disappear.
County budget offices will spend the next two weeks assessing how losses to these state programs will affect them. There are no easy answers, in part because of continuing contract negotiations.
The county and its biggest union, the Service Employees International Union Local 521, tentatively agreed to a deal requiring employees to contribute to their pensions, and in doing so save 97 union jobs and $12.5 million in public safety and human services funds. The county Board of Supervisors agreed to postpone layoffs slated for July 1 until July 15 to allow time for the agreement to be finalized.
As it stands today, the recommended county budget for next fiscal year will hit public safety departments hard. Among the many programs and positions slated for deep cuts or elimination are the county Sheriff’s portion of the Joint Gang Task Force, the deputy assigned to the state Multi-Jurisdictional Methamphetamine Enforcement Team (CALMMET) and the entire Narcotics Unit.
The disappearance of the latter two are bound to raise eyebrows, given last week’s arrest of Sheriff Scott Miller’s son, Jacob, on felony narcotics charges, including possession of meth with intent to sell.
But the loss of the Gang Task Force and over 40 county probation office positions are equally significant in their implications for public safety. “We’re talking about losing six officers and a supervisor,” says Salinas Police Department Cmdr. Stan Cooper, who is on the Gang Task Force. “That knocks my team in half, and deprives us of the expertise that comes with county officers. What we’re capable of doing when we’re running with six officers is a lot less than what we can at full staff.”
Judge John Phillips, the founder and president of Salinas-based Rancho Cielo Youth Campus, has been watching the state budget machinations for months. Much of the staffing for Rancho’s Silver Star Youth Program – from probation officers to social workers – has historically been funded through the state’s Vehicle Licensing Fee. But the state budget package passed by the Legislature last week eliminates the fee, draining cities and counties of $87 million for public safety. As a result, 23 county-level positions are slated for elimination, including four at Rancho Cielo.
“We’ll have to fill the gap with our own employees, and we’re looking to hire a volunteer coordinator to help us take advantage of people coming up here wanting to get involved,” Phillips says.
He and his development staff are also embarking on a capital campaign to raise $7 million for campus improvements and staff enhancements in an attempt to make up for evaporated state revenue.
In Cooper’s time with the Gang Task Force, the multi-agency group has done thousands of searches, made hundreds of arrests, and assisted state task forces with larger-scale investigations.
“We’re a constant threat to gangbangers out on the street,” Cooper says. “Our only focus is trying to attack the gang problem, and a lot of the patrol-level people are just so busy going from call to call that they don’t have the ability to make traffic stops of gang members. We’re living day to day.”
County spokesperson Maia Carroll suggests the cuts could raise public appreciation of government work.
“County services are often called invisible because you don’t always realize you have them until they’re gone,” she says. “The state’s made their decision. Now we at the county go back and say, ‘Now what?’”
Things should be improving for the Golden State as higher-than-expected intake during April and May led lawmakers to project an additional $4 billion in tax revenues in the next year. But a “trigger” legislation is in place that will automatically enact more cuts to vital programs should the economic picture darken next year.
“There’s no real good answer for us on the number of bodies we’ll have next month,” says Sheriff’s Cmdr. Lisa Nash. “It’s all up for debate.”