King County Sheriff Sue Rahr has developed a proposed 2009 budget that she said offers creative ways to trim spending while minimizing cuts of deputies to about of what she originally feared.
She said the proposal she sent Tuesday to County Executive Ron Sims includes the $7.5 million in cuts “I was directed to make” by Sims.
She announced her proposed budget for her department at a press conference Wednesday morning.
Due to a projected $68 million shortfall in King County’s 2009 budget, the Sheriff Department as well as the county’s Superior Court, District Court and prosecuting attorney’s office were asked to cut 8.6 percent from their budgets for next year.
Rahr initially said in June that there may be as many as 100 fewer deputies on patrol next year if she couldn’t find other ways to reduce spending to meet the mandate by Sims to make cuts. Now she is hoping that number will be closer to 50 – including the reduction of 18 deputies following two annexations by cities earlier this year — due to Sheriff Department staff recommending other cuts to Rahr for non-essential services and minimizing costs for things like patrol car replacement and cutting back on investigations of petty crimes.
“In listening to citizens from around King County during several recent town hall meetings, as well as from letters and e-mails I’ve received, it is obvious that cutting cops is unacceptable to the citizens, as well,” Rahr said. “So (department officials) have done a top-to-bottom examination of every service, cost center and position in the organization. We have come up with a number of innovative solutions to improve the efficiency of existing services, prioritize services, reduce expenditures, and increase net revenue to the general fund – anything we can think of to reduce the number of deputies that have to be cut.”
Still, Rahr said, the county will have to get rid of some deputies because salaries are by far the biggest portion of the department’s budget. So the department found ways to cut costs for things that don’t directly benefit public safety, like facilities maintenance and technology support, with King County getting paid for those services, which account for about 12 percent of the department’s budget.
Because other county government departments weren’t asked to make similar cuts, Rahr said, it seemed only fair to seek corresponding cuts in services provided to the Sheriff Department by other county departments.
Kurt Triplett, Sims’ chief of staff, said that Rahr’s assertion that other county departments haven’t been asked to make similar cuts is not accurate.
“We have assigned the same level of cuts or higher to all the internal services funds … in some cases as much as a one-third reduction target,” Triplett said. “The lowest reduction target was 8.6 percent. We are absolutely cutting internal services and middle management positions and finding efficiencies before we would ever taking direct service off the street.”
Rahr offered a number of ideas to save money in her department.
The Sheriff Department could lease fewer cars from the county motor pool as well as pay less into the replacement vehicle fund, which would save $25,000 per car. Other steps includes making adjustments to fees, correcting errors in the budget calculations, and adding revenue through taking over fire investigations.
“Once I exhausted ideas for reducing our expenditures and increasing revenue, I had to look next at eliminating employees,” Rahr said. “I have proposed cutting 13 administrative positions – all valuable civilian support positions. These cuts will impact services to the community, including the services that citizens get when they walk into their local precinct or the (county) courthouse looking for assistance with gun permits or paying various civil fees.”
In addition, Rahr has proposed cutting dedicated funds reserved by the County Council that were intended to implement recommendations by the Blue Ribbon Panel, plus cutting at least 20 deputies that investigate narcotics and organized crime, cold cases and domestic violence, as well as marine patrol officers.
“If (Sims) rejects the innovative solutions I have proposed to balance our budget and limit the impact on the safety of the public, I will then be forced to cut additional deputies and have to face the specter of discontinuing investigation of property crimes under $10,000,” Rahr said. “The current budget crisis is crippling criminal justice and other critical public services. Our citizens are making it clear to me that their priority – and my first job – is to vigorously defend and maintain the presence of the deputy in the street over perpetuating internal government services and bureaucracy.”
Triplett said there are no simple answers to solving the budget crisis but hopes that Rahr will work with the executive’s office now and in the future when the county plans to lobby the state legislature to provide a structural fix.
“It is a good start and it is a place to build on, Triplett said. “We definitely agree with how she has prioritized her budget. In the end we are going to need her help in getting a structural fix in Olympia. I hope that she would help us be a part of the solution.”