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Sheriff Says Layoffs Might Not Be Necessary

Plan calls for not filling positions as they become vacant, action that Bob Brooks says may also keep the East County Jail operating.

May 18, 2003|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Sheriff Bob Brooks says layoffs of deputies and closure of the East County Jail may not be necessary -- at least this year -- to close a $10-million shortfall in his department.

Budget managers in the Sheriff's Department huddled with county chief Johnny Johnston last week to find a way to reduce the sheriff's payroll without laying off active employees.

Their plan is to not fill positions as they become vacant, Brooks said. It would take a year to eliminate up to 100 jobs, the number Brooks has said is necessary to live within his proposed $165-million budget.

During the attrition period the county would chip in enough extra dollars to cover salaries that exceed the sheriff's budget, Johnston said.

"We are trying to find a solution," Johnston said. "And the good news is we are."

The 200-inmate women's honor farm near Ojai would still be closed in July as part of the cost-saving plan, Brooks said Friday.

And unless additional revenue is found, the department would close the East County booking facility and eliminate a gang-suppression task force, he said. But that would not occur until June 2004, Brooks said.

"The solution we have this year will avoid layoffs," the sheriff said.

Female inmates would be moved to the Todd Road Jail near Santa Paula, but closure of the Ojai facility means the county would eventually have to build a new wing at the Todd Road facility to alleviate overcrowding, the sheriff has said.

While the budget deal indicates a truce after weeks of confrontation over law enforcement funding, the larger battle still looms.

Brooks and Dist. Atty. Greg Totten are threatening to sue the Board of Supervisors for allegedly violating a public safety funding law enacted a decade ago. The lawmen say supervisors have shortchanged their funding for two years in violation of that law.

Supervisors, however, contend they had to alter a formula that governs how much public safety departments can grow each year. If they did not make the change in 2001, board members say, the county would eventually have gone bankrupt.

Supervisors on Tuesday will consider approving a contract with an Oxnard law firm retained by Brooks and Totten to file the lawsuit. According to the proposed agreement, Nordman, Cormany, Hair & Compton would receive $215 per hour for their services.

Meanwhile, Supervisor John Flynn on Tuesday will ask his board colleagues to support a study looking into whether the county can save money by transferring the sheriff's helicopter unit and emergency services to the Fire Department.

Flynn will also ask the board to audit contracts the sheriff has with five local cities to provide police services. Flynn said he is concerned the cities are not paying as much as they should for deputy protection.

"I realize the sheriff and Johnny have come to some kind of agreement," Flynn said. "However, this whole exercise has raised questions that we need to look into."

Brooks said the contracts are already audited annually by the county's auditor-controller and city officials. The sheriff said he has already looked into, and rejected, the helicopter issue after deciding a transfer would not be cost-effective.

Flynn's proposals come on the heels of a request by Supervisor Steve Bennett to compare the efficiency of the sheriff's and district attorney's offices with other counties.

Brooks said the multiple reviews have more to do with politics than policy.

"I don't think it's terribly coincidental that when we are questioning the board's interpretation of [the public safety funding law] that we are suddenly flooded with audits and studies," he said.

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