Law Enforcement Officials Blast Plan to Divert Funds : Budget: The county sheriff and district attorney tell supervisors that it would be unfair to voters to use money approved for public safety in other departments.


Ventura County’s top law enforcement officials, fighting to preserve $24 million in tax revenue set aside for their use, charged Wednesday that county leaders would break faith with the voters if they cut funding.

“The public understands that times are tough,” Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury told the Board of Supervisors at a budget study session. “What they won’t understand is if you take money designated for public safety and use it somewhere else.”

But county board members say a mounting deficit and the specter of 20% cuts in every other government department could force them to draw on some of the Proposition 172 money they promised the sheriff and district attorney just three months ago. The agencies’ funds could be cut by as much as 8%.


“I support law enforcement,” Supervisor Maria VanderKolk began, “but that does not mean I’m willing to cut everybody. . . . I cannot look at cutting $15 million out of all of the general fund departments. I won’t shut down the libraries. I won’t do it.”

Wednesday’s contentious meeting underscored a key problem facing the supervisors in this summer’s budget deliberations. After providing the money in March to expand the criminal justice agencies, can they now find a politically palatable way to cut those same departments?

Complicating the matter is the fact that voters approved the Proposition 172 sales tax in November specifically for use in public safety.

“It would be a breach of public trust for the supervisors to cut the sheriff and other administration of justice budgets after the taxpayers gave the county an extra $28 million a year,” said Michael Saliba of the Ventura County Taxpayers Assn.

Bradbury and Sheriff Larry Carpenter quoted the supervisors promising to spend every penny of the revenue on public safety. The board pledged $24 million to expand the departments of sheriff, prosecutor, public defender and corrections services.

But the supervisors have never committed the remaining $4 million, despite bids from the Fire Department and area cities for the money.


Right now, the $4 million appears in the sheriff’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. But an equal amount of county funds has been taken out for use by other agencies.

“If you’d like a street definition, it’s money-laundering,” Carpenter said.

Actually, nothing in Proposition 172 forbids counties and cities from using the money that way. A state attorney general’s opinion affirms that communities can use it to replace existing funds, rather than to expand services.

“For the most part, 172 money was not treated as a clear supplement, because counties didn’t have the money to do that,” said Carolyn McIntyre, legislative representative for the California State Assn. of Counties.

Few communities did what Ventura County has done, which is commit the lion’s share of the money to expand programs, she said. In fact, state lawmakers have submitted legislation aimed at forcing cities and counties to provide more money.

“It doesn’t matter what everybody else is doing,” Bradbury said. “Not every other county in the state made the kind of commitment that this county did.”

County supervisors actively campaigned for the ballot initiative and passed a resolution promising to spend the money on public safety. Bradbury said he would consider a lawsuit or turn to the public if the pledge is violated.


Supervisor Susan K. Lacey noted that Bradbury appeared before the supervisors without requested estimates of what an 8% cut would do to his department.

“I think they need to face reality, and the reality is they cannot exist without some of these other departments,” she said, expressing exasperation.

Lacey said Bradbury is already complaining about the county personnel department’s slow response to hiring new workers for his staff, but is willing to see that agency cut by as much as 20% if it would spare his department.

But cuts in the personnel department would only make the process slower, Lacey argued.

Carpenter said an 8% cut in his department would reduce his budget by $4.7 million, enough money to pay for 65 patrol deputies. But Carpenter said he doesn’t expect cuts. Rather, he wanted the $4 million in leftover funds added to his budget, and he advocated spending some of the money on cities.

Carpenter also said he was worried that the county would try to save money, $1 million a month, by delaying the opening of the new Todd Road Jail. The State Corrections Board has threatened to hold up money for the last phase of jail construction if the county delays the expected opening in January.

Chief Administrative Officer Richard Wittenberg said that option is being considered, but has not been discussed by the board.