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Ventura County Perspective | SECOND OPINION

County Must Keep Pledge to Preserve Public Safety

Recently proposed budget cuts cannot be made without cutting vital programs and going back on supervisors' promise about the use of sales tax revenues.

May 28, 2000|BOB BROOKS | Bob Brooks is Ventura County sheriff

After reading your editorial "Budget Cuts Are Realistic" (May 21), I felt a responsibility to correct some misleading observations.

Earlier this year, the chief administrative officer's office asked me to voluntarily participate in a hiring freeze and in the spirit of cooperation I complied. Now it is being suggested that we can save millions by leaving these 115 positions permanently vacant. The fallacy of this argument is that the majority of these positions were filled by overtime, so they do not really save money unless programs are eliminated.

Later, we agreed to accept a budget underfunded by $2.4 million. The CAO's staff then recommended cutting our budget by an additional $6.5 million and taking $7.3 million in revenue that belongs in the Public Safety Trust Fund. Both of these recommendations clearly violate County Ordinance 4088.

Some will debate whether the ordinance can withstand a legal challenge. The real issue is not a legal one. Rather, the first consideration for the Board of Supervisors is the promise it made to voters that if they passed a sales tax, it would be spent on the county's five primary public safety agencies, and whether they still intend to honor that resolution.

Our budget has grown since 1993. What the editorial failed to reflect is that this growth was partially a recovery from previous cuts and was completely offset by revenue through our law enforcement services contracts, Proposition 172 revenues, and board-approved employee wage increases. The department has not received one additional general fund dollar for program expansion in 10 years and our net percentage share of the general fund has decreased from 69% to 48%. We have balanced our budget every year and through frugal management have returned more than $30 million to the general fund.

You called my assertion that these budget cuts could mean eliminating programs such as the Crime Suppression Unit, the East County Jail, school resource and crime prevention deputies, and up to 49 patrol deputies a "blunt tactic." The truth is that reducing my discretionary budget of approximately $40 million by $9 million in voluntary and imposed reductions cannot be accomplished without dismantling most of the improvements we have made to make our neighborhoods safer over the past five years.

If I do not discontinue these programs, I Should I allow crimes to go unsolved because I cannot staff a DNA lab, permit drugs to flow into the county because I can't afford a narcotics unit, or put 911 calls on hold?

would just have other unpopular decisions to make. Should I allow crimes to go unsolved because I cannot staff a DNA lab, allow an injured hiker to remain stranded because our helicopter is grounded, permit drugs to flow into the county because I can't afford a narcotics unit, or put 911 calls on hold?

It is tragic that the mismanagement of the mental health merger and billings may cost the county up to $40 million in penalties, compliance costs and disallowed billings. The second issue for the Board of Supervisors is whether it serves the public interest to replace two-thirds of the deficit caused by this scandal at the expense of front-line law enforcement services.

The people of Ventura County elected me to ensure that their communities remain a safe place to live, work and raise families. I have consistently promised them that I would do everything in my power to ensure that their designated tax dollars would be used to accomplish that mission. To the best of my ability, like my predecessor, I will keep my word and I trust the Board of Supervisors will do the same.

Even if clever lawyers find loopholes, the only honorable thing to do when voters designate their tax dollars for a specific priority, based on a written promise by the board, is to spend it according to their intent, or return it.

I remain willing to negotiate and compromise on our budget. I will not, however, compromise the public's safety nor negotiate to dismantle a clear promise made to the public.

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