Sheriff Jerry Allen responded to criticism of his proposed law enforcement budget by pointing out that an understaffed sheriff’s office with an inadequate budget could jeopardize public safety.

At an earlier commission meeting, Allen had been criticized for missing a budget deadline and exceeding the budget he was expected to submit for FY 2019-2020. Allen was not present for the earlier discussion but he expressed his own concerns at the subsequent budget workshop. 

To comply with the county’s limited resources, Allen presented his fourth proposed budget with more cost cuts that he believes could threaten the quality of service he was elected to provide.

“Basically, I went through and made as many cuts as I thought I could do and still provide some semblance of law enforcement and public safety for next year. With version four, I tried to come closer to what’s on the budget- that’s with no capital outlay, no anything at all for next year other than that vehicle we would hopefully get out of the options tax,” he said. “It appears as if the county wanted me to cut $15,620 from the fiscal year we are in now. There’s no way I could do the same service t’m doing now for $16,000 less. The only thing where I could cut any more money would be to cut a position.”

Two patrol vacancies have still not been filled and may not be by the end of the current fiscal year. Allen said he also needs to fill a vacancy in the jail since that, as well as dispatch, must be staffed around the clock. Two people are needed per shift in the jail so inmates can be escorted as needed to the courthouse, medical appointments or work details in the community, he said.

To minimize overtime and save labor costs, Allen will assist in the jail or in dispatch. This is on top of his other duties such as responding to major emergencies and coming up with a budget.

“When a position is gone, it has to be filled. I try to fill those positions in the jail or dispatch to save the county money,” he told county leaders. “I try to get reserves but I can’t always do that. Half the day today, I’ve been in the jail and tomorrow night, I’ll be in the jail to save money.”

To comply with the limited budget, one of two patrol vacancies may be shifted to the jail leaving one vacancy in patrol and one vacancy in the jail. Allen warned county officials that cuts in law enforcement policy and procedure training could lead to potential legal problems for the county.

In addition to the unexpected costs due to overtime, sick leave, vehicle and equipment failures, there are maintenance issues at the 40-year-old building that houses the Sheriff’s Office and the county jail such as plumbing, electrical and other repairs. Sheriff Allen is still waiting for county leaders to decide on the best location, design and financing for a new law enforcement facility.

Commissioner Carol Shank said she’ll pursue more public safety grants that could help the county pay for law enforcement personnel, training, equipment, vehicles and the new county jail.

“I don’t know that we can afford to add another (patrol) position at least not for the foreseeable future,” she told Sheriff Allen during the budget workshop. “There are a lot of things you would like to do that we can’t even begin to touch because there’s no money to do it.”

To avoid large capital outlays for new law enforcement vehicles, county commissioners may implement a vehicle leasing program if the county can afford the monthly lease payments. Such a program has been successfully implemented at the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.

“Captain (Kevin) Malone offered that if myself, the commissioners, Rene, anybody, wants to go up there and see how the program works, they are willing to do that. He said their money people like it better that way because it’s easier to handle monetarily,” Sheriff Allen told county leaders.

The savings due to unfilled staff vacancies, less training, less fuel and other possible cuts seemed to satisfy county officials that the sheriff’s budget would pencil out for next year. But, Sheriff Allen warned that reduced law enforcement could impact public safety as crime, homelessness and other issues in urban areas to the west spill over into Pershing County.

“I had to send two deputies to Roger’s Dam because we had a transient living out there,” he explained. “We’ve had seven or eight transients we’ve dealt with in the last week- living in the park, urinating in the bushes, pushing shopping carts up the street and looking at people’s mail. We are the soft target. They’re getting pushed this way and we don’t have adequate staff now to deal with that. We’re going to have to figure out collectively how we bring more income to this county because we cannot continue at the sheriff’s office to provide adequate public safety at the deficit we’re at now.”