The county is facing a $72 million operating budget deficit, but each department head who spoke had a similar story.
Each department has cut staff and is functioning with larger workloads than ever, and department leaders say more cuts would have visible impacts to the community.
The first to speak was Gary Blair, executive officer of the county’s trial courts.
The Public Defender’s Office asked for another $500,000 to maintain service levels. The county is required to provide attorneys for indigent defense, and because the public defender can’t represent multiple defendants, he or she takes the first and puts the defendants in the case out to other counsel. This situation occurs in drug and gang cases most often, Blair said, and that they’ve seen an increase in these type of cases.
Because of jail overcrowding, the department investigates all inmates to determine whether they can be released from jail until their trial without being a flight risk. The department has conducted more than 19,000 reviews in the current year.
During public comment, Public Defender Deedrea Edgar said it has been an incredibly stressful two months to work for the county. The department is only 72 people, she said, and any further cuts would drastically affect operations.
“We are very cheap, we are very efficient,” Edgar said. “We can’t do it without these folks.”
District Attorney Joyce Dudley said her department has lost 20 percent of its team in the past four years and that 91 percent of its budget goes to staff salaries, “so when you cut our budget, team members disappear,” she said.
The department has had to work with less, maintaining vacancies. Dudley asked for $1.2 million to maintain the current prosecution team, which would go to pay four support staff, three victim advocates, three deputy district attorneys and one criminal investigator.
“We did all that so I could turn to you and say, ‘Please don’t cut our budget,’” she said. “Reward us for being fiscally conservative.”
The department has the highest caseload in the state, Dudley said, adding that the county has seen a 1,422 percent increase in gang crimes in the past 10 years, and a 311 percent increase in murders and attempted murders. Gang cases in particular are expensive to prosecute.
Supervisors were conciliatory, but couldn’t assure leaders their departments wouldn’t be cut further.
“The decisions we’re making are in now way reflective of how your department is being handled,” Supervisor Steve Lavagnino told Dudley.
“Some departments have stepped up more than others. … It’s those groups that have stepped up that are going to make it easier for us to find solutions,” Supervisor Salud Carbajal said. “It is going to be a challenge.”
The Probation Department has seen reductions in 30.5 full-time positions since last year, according to Patty Stewart, chief probation officer. Still, she said, the department expects salaries and benefits to increase $390,000, even with the reduction in positions.
County Fire Chief Michael Dyer also gave an overview of his department, which has a $54 million budget, 85 percent of which goes to salaries and benefits.
The department has seen a loss of 25.8 full-time equivalents from two years ago, he said. Among those cuts were staff at Fire Station 51 in Lompoc, which means that every time an ambulance is deployed from that station, a fire truck must follow, freeing up fewer staff to respond to other calls.
“The engine is going to be out of service or delayed,” he said.
A similar situation was created at Fire Station 22 in Orcutt. Additionally, air operations may also be cut, and without firefighting helicopters in the county, firefighters won’t be able to move as quickly to the scene of a fire, Dyer said, adding that he looked at an outside bid to bring in a company to operate a helicopter for county services.
“The bid came in over $1 million more than what the fire department budgeted,” he said.
The loss of fuel crews, building inspectors and an investigator were also mentioned among the cuts.
“(The cuts) will reduce our overall ability to provide emergency services that our county expects,” he told the supervisors.
The Board of Supervisors will continue its budget talks at 9 a.m. Wednesday with a discussion on community resources and public facilities. The supervisors are meeting in the board hearing room on the fourth floor of the County Administration Building, 105 E. Anapamu St.