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Riverside County May Raise Fees Cities Pay for Sheriff's Services

Supervisors are considering the increase to regain funds lost because of budget cuts.

June 08, 2004|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Looking to cushion the impact of cuts in state funding, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors is considering increasing fees for cities that contract with the Sheriff's Department for law enforcement.

County budget officials have recommended raising rates to pay for use of forensic services, aviation, special investigation teams and a training center in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

In a June 3 letter to supervisors, Sheriff Bob Doyle bristled at the recommendations, saying he was dismayed that he was not contacted. He suggested forming a committee to study the matter.

"In short, I believe the recommendations contained in the report are premature and lack the appropriate and necessary foundation to make fully informed decisions," Doyle wrote.

Doyle has previously said a rate increase would be bad policy, and possibly illegal under a 1973 law that limits overhead costs that counties can charge cities.

Officials in contract cities urged the board to examine the matter before making any decisions.

"I can't find fault for someone trying to reduce costs," said Barry McClellan, assistant city manager of Moreno Valley. "However, it needs to be in a fair and equitable manner. We need to wait for the outcome of those studies."

County administrators were asked to study the rate increase during an April meeting when Supervisor John Tavaglione questioned why contract cities aren't charged for 15 services -- such as the use of aviation, crime analysis and forensic units -- that they would have to pay for if they had their own police departments.

"It's about fairness and equity," said Tavaglione, who supports Doyle's proposal to form a committee to study the issue.

Board Chairman Roy Wilson called the recommendations premature.

"It's working well. We should be cautious before we try to change things," said Wilson, a former city councilman in Palm Desert, a contract city. "Contracts with cities are good for the county, because it helps us have a larger sheriff's force available for the entire county."

Cities and counties are trying to boost revenues to make up for a $1.3-billion cut for each of the next two years, as proposed in the state budget.

In Los Angeles County, a recent analysis found that the county is subsidizing the cost of law enforcement in its 40 contract cities.

Riverside County is preparing its budget and has already told department heads to prepare spending proposals with an 8% cut. A proposed county budget will be released in mid-June.

Thirteen cities and two special districts that serve unincorporated areas contract with the Sheriff's Department for law enforcement, bringing in about $84 million, a little more than half of the department's patrol budget.

Under the executive office's recommendation, contract rates for the current fiscal year would remain unchanged, but the sheriff would propose raising rates in the next fiscal year.

The recommendation also calls on the sheriff to study how much time patrol captains and new administrative or executive-level personnel spend on contract cities so that can be billed to the cities. Additionally, the department will track investigation and forensic data to show where crime originated and compile information from flight logs to determine how much time is spent in each city, according to the recommendation.

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