By Deb Murphy
In response to the budget update at Tuesday’s Inyo County Board of Supervisors’ meeting, the Sheriff’s and Probation Department heads admit budget increases are out of control, literally, out of their respective controls.
“Personnel costs are a big factor,” said Sheriff Bill Lutze. “Salaries haven’t gone up that much,” he said noting a 2-percent cost-of-living increase. But workman’s comp, retirement and medical insurance costs have. “That’s out of our control,” he said explaining that workers’ comp for law enforcement officers has jumped significantly with the department paying rates in the same category as underground miners. “Just the cost of doing business has gone up 3 to 4-percent,” Lutze said.
His example was the bullet-proof vests required for officers. “We’ll go for a couple of years without buying new ones,” he said, “but this year we have to buy (at least) eight” at $1,500 a pop. In addition, Animal Shelter food and supplies have increased 6-percent and the department’s radio communication repeaters go up 4-percent a year as part of the department’s contract.
Probation Chief Jeff Thomson also indicated personnel costs top the list on his departmental budget. “We have a small budget to begin with,” he said. Travel and training required for probation officers is a big factor. According to Thomson POs are required to take 40 hours of training every year. For juvenile counselors and supervisors, training requirements are nearly as stiff with 24 and 40 hours required respectively.
“We try to bring the training here,” he said, “but can’t always do that.” In addition, the department has two new POs and four new juvenile counselors, all six required to take five-week Core training off-site.
Out of his office this week, Inyo County District Attorney Tom Hardy responded by e-mail: “In a nutshell, I can tell you that my increases are primarily related to personnel costs. Even though I am reducing the number of full time equivalent positions, the built-in salary and benefit costs continue to increase.”
Lutze described references to crime rates as a “two-headed monster.” “If the crime rate is up, people are unhappy; if we’re doing a good job, they talk about budget cuts,” he said. “Active patrols keep the crime rate down. If a guy’s casing a gas station and sees a patrol cars roll by” he’ll think twice about robbing the station. “I’ve been here 40 years and seen ups and downs,” Lutze said. “If we’re not out there patrolling, we’re going to have issues.”
“We get calls that are more serious, that involve groups or violent crimes, not often but when we do they can be dangerous situations,” Lutze added that on those occasions;, he’s sending back up to guarantee potentially risky situations don’t get out of hand.
Another law enforcement issue, equally out of County control was the passage of Proposition 47 in 2014, reducing non-violent simple drug possession and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. “Agencies are going to see more (of these cases),” Lutze said. According to the Sheriff, those offenses are up 48 percent in Ridgecrest. “People are slipping through the system,” he said. “It’s going to bite us.”
On the flip side of Prop. 47, the numbers are down at the Inyo County jail despite the mandate to house non-violent, non-sexual offenders by the state’s Realignment. That’s where the Probation Department’s job responsibilities have increased. Probation officers’ jobs have grown, “not in the number of cases,” Thomson said, “but in the work required. We’re supervising higher risk cases that require more case management, more one-on-one work.” In addition, the department’s pre-trial monitoring is working to keep the jail population down. “We’re spending money to keep folks out of jail,” he said “and on their way to being tax-paying citizens.”