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Contra Costa sheriff fears big budget axe

Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf is sending out a warning of potentially severe cuts in his budget next year. (I’ve pasted Rupf’s email below.)

He says he’s been asked to slice $10 million from his 2008-2009 budget, the equivalent of 57 sheriff’s deputy positions, in order to help close the county’s deficit and help pay down the county’s post-retirement benefits debt.

Keep in mind, though, that the Board of Supervisor’s budget hearing process won’t start until later this month. County Administrator John Cullen has asked all departments to propose spending cuts but no decisions have been made about anything.

Rupf is, of course, rallying the troops. He’s one of the county’s more vocal and effective advocates for a very popular department with the public. He pushes hard every year to maintain or increase his resources.

But watch this issue become a part of the supervisor campaign in the upcoming June 3 election, which arrives about the same time the county must approve its budget.

Rupf is publicly endorsing Guy Houston, a soon-to-be-termed-out Assemblyman, over incumbent Supervisor Mary Nejedly Piepho of Discovery Bay. Rupf and Piepho have a very rocky relationship — they speak only by letter — rooted in conflicts over law enforcement issues, which led to the sheriff’s formation of his own East Contra Costa County citizen advisory task force.

As a challenger, it will be easy for Houston to jump on the public safety bandwagon. Except for criminals, who doesn’t want the sheriff to have whatever he needs to keep us safe?

But as the incumbent, Piepho must sit through hours and hours of budget hearings in coming weeks with the leaders and advocates for every other county department, people who will decry the cuts in their services, too.

Read on for the full content of Rupf’s letter.

SHERIFF’S POSSE OF CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
NEWSLETTER APRIL-JUNE 2008

PRESIDENT’S MESSAGE
Sheriff Warren Rupf

Over the past few years, I have asked you to lend your voice to our calls for fiscal reasonableness in budgeting for public safety. Sometimes we’ve been heard, sometimes we haven’t. This year, it appears that we haven’t been heard.

The County Administrator began the budgeting cycle by informing all Department Heads that they are responsible for the increases in salary and benefits that were negotiated by the County last year. This amounts to an immediate $12 million shortfall to our 08/09 budget. In addition, the Board of Supervisors has decided to begin to address a $2.6 billion shortfall in other post employment benefits (OPEB). They have committed to reducing the County liability and have targeted investing $20 million in next year’s budget toward that goal. The County Administrator has advised that our share of that expense is $4.3 million, another large hit. Several other changes, including a 3% reduction in the County’s general fund contribution to our budget, have made the picture even more dismal.

By program reductions and the utilization of one time revenue, we have been able to mitigate the impact of these cuts to some extent. However, once these actions are taken, it will not be possible to lessen the impact of future budget cuts.

The end result of all these cuts is that we are preparing for a budget that will be approximately $10 million lower than our requirements for a 08/09 maintenance budget (which already held $6 million of staff positions vacant). Since 88% of our budget is directly related to personnel costs, these cuts equate to 57 Deputy Sheriff Positions.

When we have been forced to consider eliminating positions in the past, it has always been my policy to maintain our essential core services wherever possible. However, a reduction of this magnitude will radically alter the way in which we conduct day-to-day business. In addition to eliminating a number of civilian staff positions, we will be forced to stop all narcotics and vice investigations, and the investigation of most property crimes. Our Patrol functions will also suffer. We will be forced to close and consolidate at least one Patrol substation and discontinue the response to “cold” field reports. Our Marine Patrol will lose all positions that aren’t directly funded by revenue or grants. All of these changes will result in a dramatic reduction in our ability to provide public safety protection to our community.

I hope my comments will challenge you to consider what you might do. The answer is, to act; to act by taking a public position with regard to funding priorities and, if we are to have any influence, our action must occur immediately. I ask each of you to call or write members of the Board of Supervisors encouraging them, no, insisting that they properly fund Sheriff’s services. For those of you who have the time and perhaps existing relationships and influence, the best contacts are one-on-one. If you do that, and do it now, we may avoid the proposed reductions.

I have often said that the Posse of ours is seldom called upon to act, but this is one of those times when your support both individually and collectively, is essential to the task at hand. If we do not act, our influence and priorities will be displaced by those who are willing to act.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen