County Sheriffs’ proposed budget means creative cuts

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.

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.

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.

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 might 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.

“I believe it should be the goal of this government to make the same level of internal cuts to general government and bureaucracy that we expect the public to take in critical, public safety services,” she said. “Therefore, I have proposed cutting $725,000, or 8.6 percent, of the overhead charges I pay to other departments in King County. Again, we will endure the same level of service reduction from internal government that we are expecting the public to take.”

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. “I will do my best to work with the council and the executive during the budget process this summer. But 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.”