April 29, 2009 - Cuts will hurt - from elections to animal control, officials say
Paper: The Sacramento Bee
Title: Cuts will hurt - from elections to animal control, officials say
Date: April 29, 2009
Author: Robert Lewis
Sacramento County has been talking a lot in recent weeks about the possibility of massive cuts to the high-profile sheriff's and probation departments as officials try to close a projected $187 million general fund shortfall in the fiscal year starting July 1.
Missing in the discussion, however, has been the impact on smaller departments - the agencies that test scales at grocery stores, run elections and pick up stray dogs.
The dollar amounts might not be shocking, but the impact of the cuts would be massive, officials say.
"We all want the money and there's only so much to give," said Jill LaVine, Sacramento County registrar of voters, whose department is proposing to lay off 10 of its 38 employees.
LaVine had requested $9.2 million for her fiscal 2009-10 budget, but the County Executive's Office has proposed $5 million. This means the Voter Registration and Elections Department would have to cut $4.2 million by the end of June.
The cuts, as proposed, wouldn't affect the May special election. But for the June 2010 primary election, there would be no sample ballots published, no mailing out of the vote-by-mail ballots (you'd have to pick up your own), no Spanish translations of election materials, no outreach programs.
Also, there would be fewer polling places, longer lines, delayed returns and other problems, which might mean that the county would fail to meet federal and state requirements, LaVine warned.
"I can see lawsuits. I can see disenfranchisement of voters," she said. "With the numbers they've given us, it has to be that bad."
While not necessarily as politically charged as cuts to public safety or social services, the reductions would be significant because many county departments, including elections, provide legally required programs on a modest budget, officials said.
"Is it the kind of life and death stuff you might be dealing with if the Sheriff's Department is cut? No. But it is mandated," said Frank Carl, agricultural commissioner and director of weights and measures.
Carl's department has a wide range of responsibilities including pesticide enforcement, pest management and regulating termite inspectors.
His department is the one that dealt with the Japanese beetle infestation in thelate 1980sandmorerecently has been combating the glassy-winged sharpshooter, an invasive insect that has threatened grapevines in Northern California.
Most people probably know Carl's department as the one that ensures that when you buy a gallon of gas,you actually get a gallon of gas, or when you go to the supermarket,the produce scales are accurate.
"The customers are going to be paying more for the products they're purchasing because they won't get fair measure,"Carl said. "When we decrease our inspection frequency, the level of noncompliance does increase. When no one is watching, you see people start to play games; also more devices fall into disrepair."
Carl requested $2 million from the county for next year,but the County Executive's Office allocated $1.2 million.
As a result Carl is proposing to cut nine of his 34 employees - more than a quarter of his staff. This would leave the department with seven fewer employees than it had 20 years ago despite the fact the region has 30 percent more people today, Carl said.
"We're just going to have to suffer through with less," Carl said. The county might,however,have to suffer through with more stray animals.
That's because the Animal Care and Regulation Department is likely to receive nearly $950,000 less from the county than it did this year, said Pat Claerbout, the department's director.
As a result, the department could lose as many as 15 of its 57 positions. Currently, the department is proposing to cut six positions for animal control officers - three filled - meaning it would take longer for officers to respond to calls if they do at all, she said.
"Dead squirrel hit on the road? No. That probably won't get responded to," Claerbout said.
None of the cuts is guaranteed, and the County Executive's Office is reviewing the departmental proposals, said Nav Gill, the county's chief operations officer.
Officials will need to ensure that cuts don't bring departments below the legally required level of service, exposing the county to lawsuits, he added. The Board of Supervisors will hold budget workshops and hearings in May and June. They must pass a balanced budget before July 1.
And how bad will it be if the cuts do go through? "Until we experience it, I don't know how we'll be able to respond to it," Carl said
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