With a roomful of grim-faced deputies looking on, Stanislaus County supervisors on Tuesday reluctantly agreed to lay off 52 workers in the Sheriff's Department as well as 25 library employees.
Leaders also learned that they're likely to face letting go 120 more employees in the county's 25 other departments. If so, the county will have lost more than 500 positions since January 2008, or 11.3 percent of its work force.
"We're trying to figure out the best way to hold this county together," Supervisor Dick Monteith said moments before the unanimous vote to slash $6.5 million from the Sheriff's Department budget in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Layoffs will translate to 28 deputies on patrol on a given day, down from 35 in the current fiscal year, Sheriff Adam Christianson said, and the department would have 24 detectives instead of 30.
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The sheriff already has grounded some helicopters, shut substations in Salida and Waterford and closed three of four Honor Farm barracks. Fewer jail guards combined with early-release programs will reduce total days that inmates are behind bars by about one-fifth, the sheriff said, resulting in more criminals on the streets.
Deep cuts are required even after the county's nearly 4,000 employees agreed to 5 percent pay cuts over the next two years, officials say. Supervisors Bill O'Brien and Jim DeMartini warned workers to expect even more layoff notices in the coming year because tax revenue has not rebounded.
The county is bracing for a $10 million budget gap in its $250 million general fund. Strategies include a new incentive allowing departments that cut more than the required 9 percent to keep 75 percent of savings at the end of a fiscal year.
The sheriff's budget will plummet to $78.7 million, down from $93.2 million two years ago.
Christianson asked supervisors to consider cutting his budget by 5 percent instead of 9 percent, saving some jobs. Calling layoff decisions "very painful and personal," he said keeping people safe is "far more important" than mowing grass in parks.
"This is not easy because we're affecting people's lives, families with children and mortgages, and risking public safety," Christianson said.
O'Brien and DeMartini noted that budgets of public safety agencies — probation, the district attorney's office and the Sheriff's Department — were reduced 5 percent last year compared with 12 percent for the county's 24 other departments.
"The problem is, the money is not there," O'Brien said.
He and Supervisor Jeff Grover applauded Christianson, who is running for re-election, while critic Emerson Drake decried the sheriff's "waste" and management style.
The Sheriff's Department has suffered far less than other county agencies in terms of layoffs during the recession, losing 2.4 percent of workers compared with nearly 27 percent of park workers and 11.5 percent of the district attorney's office staff.
Perhaps 100 sheriff's employees packed the chamber Tuesday, many wearing the department's dark uniforms and holding 2-foot-square signs reading, "Support public safety; keep felons in jail."
Christianson said some inmates will be moved to alternate work programs with little supervision. "Once they've figured out there is no accountability, it's going to be even harder to manage that group," he said.
All told, the Sheriff's Department will lose 68 positions, including 16 that are vacant. The department will say goodbye to 18 of its 178 patrol deputies, as well as 10 jail deputies, three lieutenants, three patrol sergeants and four jail sergeants; some ranking officers will be demoted, forcing out those with less seniority. And 12 community service officers, who respond to nonpriority calls, will be out of jobs in late June.
Despite fewer resources, the sheriff served notice that his men and women will continue to serve and protect. "I don't believe we should be creating community fear," he said.
Library cuts attracted no speakers from the audience, and supervisors agreed to eliminate 29 positions: four vacant jobs, nine full-time workers and 16 part-timers.
The strategy includes shutting all 13 branches on Fridays in addition to Sundays. Libraries draw fewer patrons on Fridays than other days, officials say.
Layoff estimates will fluctuate in coming weeks as workers respond to buyout incentives, said county Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson.
Even after letting go an estimated 120 more workers before July, the total current work force of 3,751 is less than the county employed in 2000, Robinson said.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.