Cuts could chop Placer County Sheriff’s new helicopter

Take-home cars by law enforcement to be scrutinized by budget-wary supervisors
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Grounding the Sheriff’s Department new helicopter, further depleting reserves, and tightening take-home-vehicle policies for law enforcement are among the new options on the table as Placer County supervisors sit down Tuesday to try to close an increasingly widening budget gap. With passage of a state budget Thursday, early county estimates are that it will add $3.4 million to an anticipated $15.2 million shortfall between revenues and potential expenditures in the coming fiscal year. The county had to slash expenditures and dip into its reserves this year to shore up a $9.5 million revenue shortfall. With more savings needed next fiscal year and even more anticipated over the following two years, supervisors are looking at cuts closer to the bone – but continue to look for ways to avoid layoffs. Supervisor Kirk Uhler said Friday he’s pleased county staff did “a very good job” in anticipating what would be in the final state budget. Supervisors will be formally presented Tuesday with forecasts that anticipate shortfalls of $20.8 million in 2010-11 and $29.2 million in 2011-12. The current budget adopted in September calls for $865 million in expenditures. “I’m telling constituents, employees and staff that government on all levels can’t continue to operate the way it has – that the pieces of the pie are shrinking,” Uhler said. Counties around the state are in similar circumstances, if not worse. Paul McIntosh, California State Association of Counties executive director, said Friday the organization is concerned about cuts to health and human services programs at a time when the state’s residents need them more than they have in the past. But county governments are understanding that the state isn’t going to get through the current economic downturn without major cuts, he said. “I don’t think anyone gains from this,” McIntosh said. “Except that there’s some resolution to a long and protracted issue.” With the state budget deal completed Friday, counties like Placer can now focus on their own spending plans. Supervisors will get an update on a budget for next year that aims to finalize spending sooner than the normal September vote. County Executive Officer Tom Miller said in a prepared statement issued Friday that staff is recommending that supervisors give directions on strategy now to allow proposed changes to take place when the fiscal year starts July 1. After establishing four mandatory furlough days for county staff from December through June, the CEO’s office is asking for a continuation that would see 12 more one-day closures of county offices over the coming year. A survey of upper- and mid-management staff found nine out of 10 preferred reductions in pay over layoffs and most favored furloughs. Also on the table is an option to cap a November cost-of-living adjustment at 2.5 percent. But the proposals on which supervisors will provide guidance Tuesday will also dig deeper. They include: - The possibility of selling the Aerostar Eurocopter helicopter approved for purchase by the board in mid-2007. A report to the board says one-time costs for both the helicopter and add-on equipment have increased from the original $3.4 million estimate to $4 million. Because of the way funding was established, the county is $1.5 million short on paying that bill. In addition, no new funding source has been identified to cover yearly operating costs of between $330,000 and $530,000. - Staff is providing an option that could result in a reduction of the number of unmarked public safety vehicles by 50 percent to no more than 52 vehicles. The report says Placer County currently has a total of 128 vehicles assigned for take-home use, with the Sheriff’s Department using most of those. The program now has evolved to where Placer County vehicles are being taken home out of county and, in one instance, out of state, the reports says. - Other proposals are to limit future SUV acquisitions for take-home use to specific off-road and snow country applications and that all non-patrol and non-investigative vehicles be clearly marked as Placer County cars. - $4 million in funding to shore up next year’s budget to come from the county’s reserves. The CEO’s office anticipates that reserves will be drawn down over the next fiscal years at $4 million to $5 million a year. A total of $1.7 million in reserve money was used in this year’s budget. Supervisors are scheduled to take up budget items at 11 a.m. Tuesday in the board chambers at 175 Fulweiler Ave. in Auburn. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at