Sacramento County, like many communities throughout the Nation, is facing an economic downturn. With the recession more people are relying on public services, yet the county is receiving less tax money to pay for the programs.
The end result is that Sacramento County is facing a soaring deficit that reached as high as $181 million, forcing the Board of Supervisors to make some difficult decisions.
Nowhere is that impact more directly affected by Sacramento County citizens than reductions to law enforcement. An even small cut to the Sheriff’s Department means longer response times and greater cutbacks in proactive policing programs such as the gang task force. However, with such a large deficit 85 Sheriff employees faced termination.
That means devastating changes to patrolling the streets and in the jail. The department has already faced difficult cuts last year and any additional cuts will put the public’s safety in jeopardy.
When it seemed virtually impossible for the Sheriff’s department to avoid painstaking cuts, a compromise was formed. The plan was bourn out of meetings between Sheriff McGinness, the County Executive, the Supervisors, County Counsel, and the organizations representing the brave men and women who put on the uniform to protect Sacramento County residents. All sides agreed that the county was in desperate straits. The easiest thing to do is to complain about it and battle the issue in the court of public opinion. However, everyone took the issue seriously and worked diligently to find way to keep officers on the street.
After much deliberation, a plan coalesced that would significantly reduce overhead costs. All sides agreed to lower the county’s obligation to the retirement system. The deputies and managers of the Sheriff’s Office agreed to move the retirement age from 50 to 55. Non-sworn employees also agreed to pension changes. While it may not sound like much, the overall savings to the Sheriff’s Office exceeds $100 million over the next quarter century.
In addition, all sides agreed to reinstate the use of reserve deputies. These are generally former officers who fill-in when the department is shorthanded, or younger officers just joining law enforcement. The benefits of reserve deputies are that they are experienced officers available at a lower cost since they do not receive full pension benefits.
Despite the agreement, the process was far from over. After all, any proposal that changes county contracts requires approval. After multiple hearings earlier this month, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a pension reform plan that was being pushed by Sheriff McGinness. The McGinness Plan not only saves the county millions but it also preserves the region’s public safety net.
This not a perfect solution, but it does cut costs to taxpayers and helps keep Deputies on the street. I applaud the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department for coming to the table to keep Deputies on patrol instead of the unemployment line.
Scott Jones is a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Captain and a candidate for Sheriff