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Sheriff Protests Red Ink Estimate

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sheriff Brad Gates, who has been under pressure to reduce his spending, has fired off a letter to county supervisors, complaining about a report from the auditor-controller that estimates his department will be $800,000 in the red this fiscal year.

Gates said his own calculations show that his department is only $100,000 over budget after making significant cuts in services.

“It is difficult and frustrating to have implemented very painful cost-saving measures within my department and then read a report by our auditor-controller which does not reflect accurate data on our financial condition,” he wrote.

The letter also says: “As I have stated since July, I will achieve a balanced budget for fiscal year 1990-91, but this will not be without jeopardizing critical services.”

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Auditor-Controller Steve E. Lewis conceded Wednesday that Gates’ numbers could vary from his and still be accurate. Lewis’ budget projections are based on actual spending in the weeks just before he issues his data, while the sheriff could be basing his calculations on spending cuts planned for the rest of the budget year, he said.

“The point of these reports is not to show they’ll be $4 million or even $800,000 off but that the department appears to be over budget and we’re just trying to put the board and the CAO (county administrative officer) on notice,” Lewis said. “As we come closer to budget adoption time, this will all be more critical.”

Last year, during a mid-fiscal year report, Lewis estimated that the Sheriff’s Department would face a $3-million budget overrun for 1990-91. Faced with a deepening financial crisis, county officials warned Gates that if he did not trim his budget, especially the amount of overtime he was paying his deputies, it could jeopardize funding for other county programs.

At the same time that the county was cutting spending for such services as medical care for indigents and shelters for runaways and troubled youths, the Sheriff’s Department was expected to spend more than $12 million just for overtime pay. In the last 10 years, the department’s overtime pay has increased 750%, records show.

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However, Gates, who oversees a $142.3-million budget, has said the county’s booming population growth, salary increases in his department and jail overcrowding are to blame for most of his overruns.

And since last year’s report, both Gates and officials in the CAO’s office agree that the sheriff has instituted a number of cuts that have reduced the projected budget overrun.

“He’s worked real hard on this,” said Ronald S. Rubino, the county’s associate administrative officer. “I want to give him credit for that.”

In an effort to cut costs, the Sheriff’s Department is allowing vacancies to go unfilled for 90 days before replacements are hired. Overtime has also been curtailed, though officials were not available to detail by how much.

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The sheriff’s budget is critical to the overall budget picture, Lewis said, because criminal justice services--including jails, courts and probation--take up about 60% of the county’s discretionary funds. And unlike other services, such as planning and development, which are mostly funded through fees, the Sheriff’s Department has to be financed largely through direct county tax dollars.


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