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 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

  • Lisa, I appreciate your coverage of this very important issue and look forward to hearing from your readers.

    Public safety is one of the most important services we provide at the county. I am proud to have led the fight to preserve and protect Sheriff Rupf’s budget in my first county budget cycle, 2005-2006, back when county reserves were dwindling below $40 million and we were faced with significant budget deficits and cutting critical community and health programs. In that budget cycle I advocated strongly, and won support from my colleagues, to reinstate nearly $3 million in proposed budget cuts to Sheriff Rupf’s department budget. This was the first year in many that the Sheriff’s budget had been protected.

    Since that time, the county’s fiscal health has dramatically improved, with county reserves now up over $100 million and growing, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s lifting their Negative Watch from our credit rating and giving the highest rating possible on our ability to borrow funds.

    In addition, we have developed and adopted, with participation from the Sheriff himself, Treasurer Bill Pollacek and Auditor Steve Ybarra, policies that simply say we can’t spend more than we take in revenue. A simple accounting practice that is common in our household finances, but not one practiced well in government.

    Today, due to these and other substantial efforts, Contra Costa County is on a much stronger financial footing than we were a few short years ago when I joined the board. Now, the state is throwing us a curb ball with their $16 billion deficit both in last year’s budget and the upcoming 2008-2009 budget, and looking at local government to carry the weight. This, along with our committment to funding our OPEB (County Retireee Health Care) liability while maintaining existing service levels, is creating significant impacts on all county departments. This is why the County Administrator has asked all county department heads and Elected Officials like the Sheriff for direction to the Board of Supervisors on their budget recommendations.

    As in the past three years, I look forward to receiving Sheriff Rupf’s budget considerations and recommendations on how we can maintain and protect existing levels of service while we weather this new budget storm.

    I am confident that the board’s efforts over the last two years in adopting and implementing more prudent spending practices has made the current challenges a bit easier, but none-the-less, they will not be painless. My committment to public safety remains very strong, as it always has been.

    I invite anyone interested in learning more about my candidacy for re-election to visit my website at http://www.MaryNejedlyPiepho.com and click on the endorsements icon. I’m proud to have earned support from the good men and women in front-line law enforcement, the Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff’s Association is standing strong with me in my efforts to retain my seat, along with County District Attorney Bob Kochly, former Assemblywoman Lynne Leach, over 30 local city Mayors and Councilmembers, and many, many more community leaders.

    Again, thank you for covering this most important issue.

    You can provide comments directly to me via the website on the county budget process or any other issue of importance to you.

    Don’t forget to vote on Tuesday, June 3, 2008!

  • Warren E. Rupf

    I wish to comment on Supervisor Piepho’s comments regarding my budget fears… poppycock!
    She describes circumstances and events that come from a world of smoke and mirrors not reality.
    My fears are based on real proposed reductions in our budget. Numbers that if left unchanged, will require further reductions in the funded level of our ranks.The equivilant of sixty (60) full time employees representing every rank and classification from Undersheriff to clerical, forty two ( 42) of which could be deputy sheriff’s.

  • Patriot Johnny


    I find it strange that under all the smoke, the Sheriff’s Deputies are endorcing Piepho while the Sheriff himself is endorsing Houston ?
    Are the Deputies out of touch with thier boss ?
    Are the Deputies endorcing Piepho because of her generous spending and restraint from removing the much needed corrections for OPEB ? Is the Sheriff endorcing Houston because of experience or Piepho’s lack of experience? Somethings really wrong in river city.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this Lisa.

    P.S. I thought I heard in the recent televised debate that Mary Piepho claimed she rescued the Sheriff in the last years budget. Does the Sheriff
    agree he was rescued by Mary ? Probably not. Whatever the case may be this election is heating up quick.

  • No time for nonsense

    PJ, setting aside the innuendo, if you watched the televised debate or just read the Supervisor’s post above you would see the “rescue” was for the 2005-2006 cycle.

    I’m a little disturbed by the tone here. I see the Supervisor pointing out the historical budget challenges of her term, then reaching out for direction from the Sheriff for the coming year. In response he is flippant, if not condescending.

    Does “poppycock” refer to the budget rescue claim?….the increase in reserves?….the understanding that you can’t spend more than you take in?….the improved Standard and Poor rating? A little more in specifics would help.

    These petty swipes do not further the dialog and are highly unprofessional. We aren’t going to find solutions to our County’s issues with that approach.

  • No time for nonsense

    Proposed budget figures for 2008-2009 are now out on the County’s website. While revenues are down, the Sheriff’s office is being recommended a 5.9% increase YoY, while many other departments will experience reductions. The County Administrator and the Board of Supes appear to be showing the way taking some of the biggest hits along with Public Works.

    So did someone just yell fire in a crowded theater for no reason?

    Another notable is a signficant reduction in the OPEB liability. See the current year funding gap is cut in half and the total number is reduced substantially.