Ventura County Sheriff Larry Carpenter proposed $4.77 million in budget cuts Monday that he said would end routine investigations of all but the most serious crimes, hamper some street patrols, and lead to 25 to 30 layoffs in the department.
If approved by the Board of Supervisors, Carpenter's list of 23 cost-saving measures would eliminate Project D.A.R.E. anti-drug programs in the county's unincorporated areas, he said.
"Public safety is to the point in this county where it cannot be cut and not have the public greatly lower its expectations," Carpenter said citing two years of heavy state funding cuts already sustained by his department.
Ordered by the Board of Supervisors to recommend 10% in cuts to the county's $48-million appropriation for his department, Carpenter came up with the list of priorities that, if approved, would eliminate a total of 67 positions.
Although the department has about 50 unfilled positions, at least 25 to 30 of the sheriff's most recently hired employees might have to be laid off under the proposed spending plan, he said.
The list is topped by $500,000 in savings Carpenter said could be gleaned from reorganizing and, in some cases, demoting management-level workers, and elimination of positions in records-keeping and court security.
"We've tried and tried and economized where we can economize, and we've worked hard," he said. "But we're to the point where every dollar that's taken away from us will reduce the level of response. . . . This 10% represents a major impact on public safety throughout the county and the East Valley" division of the department.
The list also includes, in order of priority:
* Closing the sheriff's training academy for any new trainees.
* Pulling two deputies and a sergeant from duty as bailiffs in the East County Courthouse in Simi Valley, depriving the two courtrooms there of the officers they need to operate legally.
* Closing the East Valley Sheriff's Station jail by pulling out eight employees, forcing Simi Valley police and sheriff's deputies who book suspects there to drive to Ventura instead.
* Eliminating investigators in all divisions who look into reports of burglary, car theft, grand theft and bad checks. "There would be no investigative follow-up . . . except in many cases by patrol officers," Carpenter said. Often, such a case "would boil down to an insurance claim," he said.
* Eliminating positions of two deputies who sift through the 95,000 major-crime arrest warrants now on file and give patrol deputies lists of suspects who may be easy to find. Without those, Carpenter said, patrol officers would have to stumble across wanted suspects during situations such as traffic stops.
* Closing the Lockwood Valley sheriff's station, leaving deputies in Ojai or neighboring counties to cover the remote region on an emergency basis.
* Elimination of a sergeant and a helicopter pilot from the search-and-rescue unit, which would limit the hours the unit could operate.
Carpenter said he and Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury will make a plea to the Board of Supervisors in a budget workshop Wednesday morning to not allow such deep cuts in public safety.
"The state holds the key at this point on how much the county has to work with," Carpenter said.
Supervisor Susan Lacey said Carpenter's proposed cuts will have to be weighed against cuts suggested by other county agencies, but she acknowledged that this is the year taxpayers will suffer the deepest cuts in public services due to the state Legislature's reductions in funding to the counties.
"When you start making 10% cuts on top of the cuts we've already made around here for the last three years, they've got to start being really \o7 hurting \f7 cuts," she said. "We're not allowed to print money. If they're not gonna send it, we can't spend it."
Word of Carpenter's budget priorities angered several city officials, who said the Legislature's repeated funding cuts have finally struck bone.
"That's a disaster, if that's the way it goes. I'm really disappointed," said Paul Lawrason, mayor of Moorpark, which spends 60% of its annual budget on a contract for Sheriff's Department protection.
The prospect of losing patrol coverage when deputies must drive to Ventura to book suspects is "really unacceptable," he said.
"We contract for beat hours in the city, on the streets, and I don't want our police officers tied up in these lengthy booking procedures," Lawrason said. "It just doesn't make any sense."
Supervisor Vicky Howard, who has strenuously opposed closing either the East County Courthouse or jail, could not be reached for comment Monday.
Simi Valley Police Chief Lindsey P. Miller said his department would lose the equivalent of one year's worth of a single officer's patrol time if forced to book suspects in Ventura--or up to six hours of patrol time per night whenever an officer has to book two suspects.