The Orange County Sheriff's Department will lay off one of its highest-ranking officers as well as 23 professional staff members this month as it grapples with a budget shortfall of more than $50 million.
Among those who will lose their jobs is Assistant Sheriff Michael Hillmann, a four-decade veteran of the LAPD hired by Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens to help lead the department in the wake of corruption allegations against her predecessor.
Hillmann, 64, ran into controversy early on when he was caught sending text messages mocking activists and board members during a Board of Supervisors meeting early last year on the department's gun permit policies. He later apologized.
In addition to the cuts, 15 staff members have been asked to take extra responsibilities without additional pay to make up for the loss of personnel.
"Every laid-off individual does represent a loss of service," Hutchens said, "but I'm doing everything I can not to impact the emergency services we provide."
The changes come less than six months after Hutchens announced a dramatic reorganization that cut several members of the sheriff's command staff, some of whom were closely linked to former Sheriff Michael S. Carona. The former sheriff resigned in January 2008 after his indictment; he was sentenced last April to 5 1/2 years in prison for attempting to obstruct a grand jury investigation.
In last year's reorganization, five captains were cut and field operations and investigative services were combined under Hillmann. Those cuts and 24 layoffs helped the department close a $28-million budget shortfall.
"We were able to reduce our budget . . . only to find that because of continuing declines in Prop 172 revenue, we would need to cut an additional $24 million the first six months of this year," Hutchens said in a statement to sheriff's employees Friday.
Proposition 172 revenues -- from a ½-cent sales tax -- help fund public safety in the state.
To fill Hillmann's position, Hutchens has asked a commander to serve as an interim assistant sheriff for no additional pay.
Nick Berardino, general manager of the Orange County Employees Assn., said his organization had been advocating a range of cost-cutting measures to avoid eliminating sheriff's professional staff.
"We're very upset that once again it's only our people being laid off while everyone else is either getting their positions restored or getting promotions or getting severance pay," he said.
County supervisors are set to vote Tuesday on a three-year contract agreement with the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. County officials have been pushing the union for cost-saving measures including cutting retirement costs, overtime and freezing general salary increases.
On Friday, Hillmann called the layoff announcement "bittersweet."
"I've had a career," he said. "I want to be able to save some cops."
The department's financial picture is bleak. For fiscal year 2010-11, the department expects a budget shortfall of $60 million.