The San Joaquin Valley is on the short end of Gov. Jerry Brown's plan for public-safety spending next fiscal year -- a blow that will make it harder for Valley communities to manage growing numbers of felons in jails and on probation rolls.
While the governor's budget proposal adds money for counties to absorb state prisoners being pushed their way, the bump favors regions such as the Bay Area.
The 12 counties between Kern and San Joaquin are slated for a smaller percentage of the public-safety funds than they're getting now. Seven of nine Bay Area counties, by comparison, are due a larger chunk.
The funding is expected to start July 1.
Valley officials who have looked at the proposed state budget are not pleased.
Counties such as Fresno are in desperate need of money to keep jail floors open and prevent early releases. The Fresno County Probation Department, meanwhile, has had to supervise more people who have been released from jail and could use funding to hire more staff.
"I'm troubled by some counties getting so much of the windfall when the workload in places like Fresno is much greater," said Linda Penner, Fresno County's chief probation officer.
Tulare, Kings, Madera, Stanislaus and Merced counties also will see below-average increases in funding in the coming budget year. The governor and state lawmakers are expected to agree on a final budget this week.
"I don't disagree that you should incentivize not sending people to prison," said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin. "But if you're pushing us to not send people to prison, but we don't have the money to create programs, it's a black hole and will only spiral worse and worse."
The funding for counties -- a total of $843 million as proposed in the state budget -- is intended to pay for the state's new realignment program. The program seeks to reduce California's prison population by shifting responsibility for low-level felons from the state to counties. Since the program began in October, county jails and probation departments have taken in thousands more criminals.
The realignment was launched to get the state in compliance with a federal court order to stop prison overcrowding, as well as save money.
Leaders in Sacramento say the latest distribution of realignment funds is not meant to hurt Valley counties. It's meant to help counties that already are lessening the state's prison load by investing in diversion programs. Programs such as electronic monitoring, house arrest and rehabilitation help divert people from prisons and cut down on repeat offenders.
Those kinds of programs weren't a significant part of the funding formula when the state handed out its first round of realignment money. Instead, the first round of funding was directed heavily to counties that simply shipped more criminals to the state.
Counties with alternative programs, many of which are in the Bay Area, raised red flags that they were being slighted in the initial handout and sought changes.
"Crime rates are still high in these communities. They're still dealing with serious issues. There has to be some acknowledgment of that," said Santa Cruz County Administrative Officer Susan Mauriello, who helped decide how to dole out the funds.
Mauriello noted that counties with local services are doing just what the realignment calls for -- using less costly alternatives to incarceration -- and the realignment can't succeed without that.
"That's the reason the state is providing this money to the counties, to come up with community-driven programs," she said. "Unless we do that, we're not going to have enough resources."
But for T.R. Merickel, a probation director in Kern County, it's a chicken-and-egg thing. His county won't be able to afford the development of alternative programs unless the state is willing to invest more there.
"If you're funneling money away from our counties, how are we going to have money to start these recidivism-reducing services?" Merickel said. "Give us the money so we can put in place the programs."
Conservative as a rule
Counties in the Valley have historically taken a more conservative approach toward public safety, prioritizing incarceration over alternatives.
Merickel said the system didn't punish counties that didn't invest in diversion programs. Now, he said, the state is being too quick to change the funding system.
The governor's realignment funding in the coming budget year is slated to be nearly 2½ times the $354 million that was provided during the first nine months of realignment.
Accordingly, every county will get at least double what it got initially.
Several factors, including how well a county diverts criminals from prison and how much more work a county will face, determine how much a county will get on top of that.
"It's never an easy discussion to have because you're dividing up a pie of limited size," said Elizabeth Howard Espinosa, senior legislative representative for the California State Association of Counties.