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SLO County budget hearing begins, supervisors start tackling projected $32-56 million shortfall

SLO Board of Supervisors
San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors begin three-day long budget hearing to address a projected $32-56 million shortfall. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors began tackling a projected $32-56 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1.

A planned three-day long budget hearing started that will look into ways supervisors can create a budget that addresses the massive loss of funding that is a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"There are some really difficult decisions that we're going to have to make looking at the budget," said Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Lynn Compton. "A lot of it is unknown right now. We don't know what the Governor's budget will look like. We won't know until August, so we have to put something in place and move forward until we hear what's going to happen in August with his budget."

For more than two hours, supervisors heard a presentation on the Fiscal Year 2020-21 recommended budget given by county budget director Emily Jackson.

During her presentation, Jackson laid out staff recommendations that would impact each county department.

County staff is recommending a multi-step process to address $19.3 million of a total $26.2 million gap expected as of July 1, 2020.

According to the county agenda, it anticipates the target will grow in the future and further action in the Fall will be necessary once the State has a better understanding of its budget.

Among the proposed cuts is a significant reduction in funding for public safety departments, including Sheriff-Coroner, Probation, District Attorney, and County Fire

The Sheriff's Office is facing an approximately $1.9 million reduction in funding, while fire protection could see its budget cut by as much as $400,000.

Speaking via conference call, Sheriff-Coroner Ian Parkinson stressed core fundamental services, such as service calls, jail, coroner's office, and court security are mandatory, but other, more subjective programs could be eliminated or reduced.

"Everything that is subject to cut, are things that we do that our programs and extras, so when you talk about our community action team, marijuana enforcement, school resource deputies, these are things that none of us want to cut, and certainly, I don't want to cut, but at the end of the day, if we have to cut, we have to cut," said Parkinson. "I have to be able to provide the basic fundamental services to all of our citizens throughout the county."

Following the staff presentation, supervisors listened to 80 recorded calls during the public comment period.

Nearly every single one of the calls voiced their opposition to proposed cuts to law enforcement.

"We are very, very against it and we will be most unhappy with you if you even entertain a thought like that," said one caller who identity herself as Michelle Norwood.

"I implore you not to cut funds to much-need Sheirff's department. They help protect our society in every way, with crime to keep law and order and for those in need," said a caller identified as Christina Aguirre.

No live phone calls for public comment were taken today, but will start once the hearing resumes at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

During a break in the hearing, Compton noted the proposed cuts to the Sheriff's Office has nothing to do with "defunding" the department, which is currently being debated nationally following death of George Floyd.

She emphasized this is merely a proposal during the annual budget process, pointing out all county departments are being subject to proposed funding cuts.

Some in the community are calling for cuts to law enforcement.

R.A.C.E. Matters scheduled a direct action and march for late Monday afternoon at the SLO County Government Center.

The local group is hoping to persuade county leaders to direct some funding away from law enforcement and incarceration to mental health services and community non-profits.

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