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SLO County Supervisors finish budget hearing, spare Sheriff’s Office from cuts larger than recommended

SLO Board of Supervisors
San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors meet during annual budget hearing Tuesday morning (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors finished a two-day long hearing on the Fiscal Year 2020-21 Recommended Budget on Tuesday afternoon.

At noon, the meeting concluded with supervisors agreeing on the most talked about portion of the proposed budget; what the board would do in regard to proposed reductions in funding to public safety.

By a vote of 4-to-1, the Board agreed on a plan that would direct money from Proposition 172 reserve funds to help reduce cuts recommended by County staff.

"We're going to use $2.5 million from Prop 172 reserves to backfill, so that our four safety divisions are not hurt moving forward," said Lynn Compton, Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair. "Those four divisions will be about a million dollars short. Those four safety units, which include Fire, D.A., Probation and Sheriff, will be about $1 million short from what our goal was today. That's still significantly less than what we started out yesterday, and what the other departments will be seeing moving forward."

In its recommended budget, County staff proposed the Board use $1 million from the reserve fund, and then direct the four public safety departments to make up the rest of the expenditure reductions totaling $2.4 million.

Instead, the Board directed the use of $3.4 million to public safety, which was $2.4 million more than staff recommended.

First District Supervisor John Peschong made the motion to the Board to use more of the reserve funds, which was voted in favor by fellow supervisors Compton, Third District Supervisor Adam Hill and Second District Supervisor Bruce Gibson.

Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold voted against it. She also wanted to maintain funding for public safety, but motioned to make up for the cuts by deferring planned training and maintenance projects.

The use of the reserve funds will completely offset the amount of expected decline in revenue collected from Proposition 172.

The proposition was approved by California voters in 1993. It established a permanent half-cent sales tax to support city and county public safety departments.

Due in large part to COVID-19, the County is having to wrestle with a budget shortfall that is estimated to between $32-56 million.

County staff recommended significant reductions in funding for each county department.

The cuts included large reductions to the Sheriff's Office, as well as County Fire.

The Sheriff's Office was facing a nearly $2 million reduction, while Fire was looking at a $400,000 loss.

This week's budget hearing came at the same time there is growing calls nationally, as well as locally, to reduce funding for law enforcement.

Many others are demanding that law enforcement be completely defunded altogether.

During the hour-long public comment period, many callers spoke out passionately on both sides of the argument.

"I am calling today to urge the Board of Supervisors to consider even deeper cuts to the Sheriff's Department, even defunding them completely," said a caller from Los Osos. "The Sheriff's Department needs to be defunded because they are meaningfully prevent crime. Instead, they harm the community by unnecessarily targeting black and brown people, low-income people and those with mental illnesses. The Sheriff's Office is  not able to increase public safety."

Several other callers asked supervisors to direct money to programs for eduction, youth, mental and social services.

Others voiced strong opposition to any of the proposed cuts to law enforcement.

"I am speaking today in support of Sheriff (Ian) Parkinson and the San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office and to not to cut the Sheriff's budget, but to increase the budget for 2021," said a caller from Shell Beach. "To cut the budget of the Sheriff's Office by even one dollar is irresponsible and reduces the ability of the Sheriff's Department to protect our community."

However, supervisors and county officials pointed out the hearing was not about any possible defunding of the Sheriff's Office.

"The recommendations are all based around addressing the budget gap created by COVID-19," said SLO County Budget Director Emily Jackson. "None of the recommendations are done in response to any of the protests or any actions that we have seen recently. It's not an attmept to defund the police. Again, it's specific to very significant budget concerns that we anticipate to COVID-19.

"The politics of the moment, whether it be the Black Lives Matter, which I'm highly sympathetic to, are not at play here," said Hill. "That's not what we're trying to do. We're trying to figure out how to balance our budget."

Even with the use of the Proposition 172 reserve funds, public safety is still facing an overall reduction in funding that amounts to just under $1 million.

"Other departments will take a bigger percentage of the cut then our public safety department," said Compton. "Our four units of public safety will take the smallest percentage of that cut. It was up and going into today one percent and it's less than that now."

According to Jackson, funding to the Sheriff's Office will be reduced by $527,714.

Other cuts include $185,680 to County Fire, $127,972 for the District Attorney's Office and $124,596 for Probation.

While public safety will be hit with about a one percent cut, most other county departments will see a reduction totaling about four percent.

"There was overwhelming feedback from our constituents that they continue to believe in public safety," said Compton. "They want public safety and they want that to be a priority and it's been a board priority in the past and so we moved forward with that direction."

The Board will meet next Tuesday, June 16 to adopt the Recommended Budget.

Later on, the Board will be asked to legally adopt the Final Budget for Fiscal Year 2020-21 in mid-September.

Business Matters / California / Community / Crime / Economy / Safety / San Luis Obispo County / Your Money

Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.