The Sheriff’s Office plans to renegotiate its law enforcement contracts in an effort to recover the actual costs incurred providing the services as well as update and standardize the language and provisions of agreements that, in some cases, were initially developed 25 years ago.
In a unanimous vote, the Board of Supervisors gave the sheriff the authority to cancel existing contracts in order to negotiate new ones, but they were divided over how to make up a projected $1.3 million deficit in the department’s budget that reared its head in the first-quarter financial report delivered later in Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s no surprise that’s largely driven by overtime,” said Jeff Frapwell, budget and research director, noting that expense is projected to hit $2.2 million, even though overtime is down 13 percent from the first quarter of the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Frapwell said that $2.2 million in overtime will be slightly offset by $900,000 savings in salary and benefits, reducing the department’s deficit to $1.3 million.
He said the Sheriff’s Office is “diligently working” on ways to bring down those cost overruns, but backfilling vacant positions is causing the large amount of overtime.
Undersheriff Bernard Melekian told the board the solution lies in solving the issue of custody deputies’ overtime through one of three ways — hiring more deputies, increasing the amount of funding allocated for overtime or reducing the jail population.
He said last year, the Sheriff’s Office cut 10 positions as its contribution toward dealing with a looming budget deficit. But eight custody deputies were unexpectedly taken off floor duty at the jail to escort inmates to and from new medical services that can’t be provided on-site.
“We have the ability in patrol to adjust for the time of day, activities and moving deputies around to other stations,” Melekian said. “The staffing in the jail is a direct function of how many (inmates) are in the jail.”
But the Mental Health Services fund is facing an even larger potential deficit at $3.7 million, which Frapwell said is being driven by using services of state hospitals and Aurora Vista Del Mar Hospital in Ventura County at a cost of $1.8 million.
Also contributing are the out-of-county use of Institute for Mental Disease beds at a cost of $900,000 and a $1.4 million reduction in Psychiatric Health Facility revenues.
Those are partially offset by $400,000 in unanticipated income from vehicle license fees.
“At this point, it’s a choice: Do you want cops or do you want to send people to Vista Del Mar?” said 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam. “There are no good choices here, and there won’t be for a long time. In fact, it’s only going to get worse.
“I would like to see us take proactive steps, and there’s going to be more pain than we want to inflict, but that’s where we are.”
While some of the supervisors seemed to lean toward cutting costs, others favored increasing revenues or passing some services off to cooperating agencies.
“My mantra is we have to go after revenue that exists,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.
Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf said reducing the jail population through pretrial release programs would help cut costs.
First District Supervisor Das Williams suggested shifting air operations from the Sheriff’s Office to the Fire Department.
“I, for one, want more staffing,” Williams said, noting that would give him more incentive to provide additional funds.
Frapwell noted that overall, the county funds are in good shape. Even considering the pending deficits, the General Fund is projected to have a $661,000 surplus, and special revenues will be $401,000 above the budgeted level.
General revenues are up $411,000, he said, and surpluses are $441,000 for Planning and Development and $355,000 for General Services.
One of the main sources for the surpluses is workman’s compensation insurance premiums, which are $1.5 million less than projected during budget hearings, Frapwell said.
Renegotiating its law enforcement service contracts will help the Sheriff’s Office recover the full cost of providing those services, but it likely won’t affect the overtime costs.
Agencies and organizations that contracted for services last year included the cities of Buellton and Solvang, Cachuma Lake Patrol, Santa Maria High School, Lompoc High School District, Righetti RSD, Hancock College, Santa Maria Fairpark, Elks Security, Los Alamos Days, Amgen Tour de California, Vandenberg Missile Launch Security and even the Board of Supervisors.
The only contract that won’t be affected is the one with the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, which was recently renegotiated.