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San Joaquin County supervisors save some positions, funding from chopping block

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Posted: Thursday, June 24, 2010 12:00 am

Although its decision is subject to a final vote this afternoon, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors reinstated seven positions, mostly in law enforcement, from the chopping block and continued funding to protect the county's interests in the Delta.

After a day full of pleas from several departments to restore funding that department heads had chopped from the budget for the fiscal year to begin July 1, the Board of Supervisors made the following tentative decisions on Wednesday:

  • Restored the position of pretrial staff specialist in the Probation Department. This person conducts hearings to determine probable cause. Without the specialist, many suspects would have to be released from jail until their next court appearance, according to Chief Probation Officer Patricia Mazzilli.
  • Restored four animal control officers for six months to serve rural areas.
  • Restored two code enforcement officers.
  • Allocated $350,000 for six months to protect the county's opposition to the proposed peripheral canal and protect the county's interest in Delta-related politics.

Hearings will continue this morning on San Joaquin General Hospital. At 1:30 p.m., the board will review fees for various county services. The board is scheduled to adopt the final county budget late today, which will be approximately $1.2 billion. The budget is about $56.2 million less than the 2009-10 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The four animal control officers will be funded only for six months so that county officials can discuss the possibility of a joint-powers agency handling animal control issues in six cities, including Lodi, and unincorporated areas, County Administrator Manuel Lopez said. The city of Ripon has indicated it is not interested in participating, Lopez said.

Lopez added that he will explore other methods that could be used to handle animal issues.

On Wednesday morning, leaders from the Sheriff's, District Attorney's, Public Defender's and Probation offices — one at a time — pleaded with the Board of Supervisors to reinstate positions in their departments to keep county residents safer.

"We are less safe, and we have to stop this bleeding," District Attorney Jim Willett told the board. "It's the murders, attempted murders and gang drive-bys that suck me dry."

Meanwhile, Public Defender Peter Fox urged supervisors to restore $2.2 million because his attorneys have provided cost savings for the county. With the cuts proposed by county staff, Fox said it will actually cost the county more because it will have to utilize the more-costly Lawyer Referral Service.

Fox said cases his department handles cost about $1,700, but private attorneys charge more, Fox said. And 76 percent of all felony suspects used public defenders funded by taxpayers in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

More private attorneys will be needed if the proposed budget cuts stick because the public defender's office won't be able to provide attorneys for all civil cases and many felony and misdemeanor complaints. And the public defender's office, which has two pending death penalty cases, probably won't be able to adopt any new cases, Fox said.

Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller put it simply.

"We don't have any money," Ruhstaller told Mazzilli after she completed her presentation. "Next year, we're going to have less money."

Ruhstaller acknowledged that Fox, Willett and Mazzilli gave compelling reasons on Wednesday morning to restore their funding, and that Sheriff Steve Moore, who was to speak next, would give an equally compelling argument for his department.

Today's budget hearings

9 a.m.: Public health, mental health, substance abuse/crime prevention, health care in the county jail, San Joaquin General Hospital.

1:30 p.m.: Fees for planning applications, fire permits, other permits, ambulance service, mental health, substance abuse, county park rental, jail booking, flood control, lighting, maintenance districts and other services. After hearing on fees, Board of Supervisors is scheduled to adopt the final budget.

The hearings will be held in the board chambers, 44 N. San Joaquin St. at Weber Avenue, sixth floor, Stockton.

Source: San Joaquin County

Moore said that he continued to seek better financing solutions after submitting his proposed Sheriff's office budget to County Administrator Manuel Lopez.

Moore originally anticipated 121 full-time positions would be deleted, which included 82 layoffs (the remainder were eliminated by attrition), but as of Tuesday afternoon, 45 faced the chopping block. Moore asked the board to reinstate the positions for the 45 employees facing layoffs.

William Jespersen, a criminal investigator facing being laid off in the DA's office, said that the layoffs are having a devastating effect on him. Jespersen said he had always paid his bills on time, but the words "past due," "foreclosure" and "bankruptcy" are now serious possibilities in his life.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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