SB County officer sees need to extend license fee
Mediha Fejzagic DiMartino, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/20/2011 07:02:40 AM PDT

The San Bernardino County Probation Department could be forced to lay off 140 probation officers and other staff members if voters do not extend the increase in the Vehicle License Fee for another five years, officials fear.

The 2009 tax and fee increases, set to expire June 30, added an 0.5-percentage-point increase to the VLF. A portion of the fee – projected to generate $4.5 billion in 2011-12 if it is extended – funds various public safety programs, including juvenile justice and probation.

Lack of VLF revenue will result in loss of services for at-risk youth and less supervision for serious offenders, according to county Chief Probation Officer Michelle Scray.

Scray said she will be forced to restructure the Adult Division and eliminate intensive services focused on high-risk offenders.

The department’s Gang Unit stands to lose its five probation officers who arrested 900 serious offenders in 2009-10.

Seven officers that supervise the most dangerous sex offenders also could be transferred or laid off, depending on their seniority level.

The same scenario may play out with 11 officers in the Mental Health Unit, and nine from the Domestic Violence Unit.

“I have worked diligently to leave those units intact as we took cuts in the previous years,” Scray said. “This time I have no choice but to form large banked caseloads. Not only am I committed to protecting our community, but my officers are as well. These are difficult times.”

Probation’s custody staff took the hit in the last round of layoffs and would not be touched in the next round, according to Tracy Reece, a division director for the Probation Department.

“We are just able to function,” Reece said.

The impact on the Juvenile Division will be “staggering,” Scray said.

On the chopping block are three Day Reporting Centers, which provide “a structured environment throughout the day for youth,” including education, drug and anger-management counseling, Reece said. In the fiscal year 2009-10, 2,472 youth at risk were provided with services.

The department may also have to pull back 12 probation officers stationed at nine county school districts, including Upland, Colton, Hesperia and Chino Valley unified school districts.

The probation offices have been working with schools on attendance and discipline issues as well as providing a presence at campus to ensure the safety of students.

“This will essentially reduce Juvenile Services to investigations and large caseloads,” Scray said. “These losses are difficult for me personally. I have been committed to ensuring our youth are provided the opportunities to change their lives. Otherwise they end up in the adult system.”

If it were up to Gov. Jerry Brown, Scray’s worries would not materialize.

Brown is asking the Legislature to call a special election in June to allow voters to decide if the 2009 temporary tax increases should be extended.

The state’s Republican legislators are against the tax vote, arguing that extensions would cripple the state’s fragile economy.

The solution to the problem is in implementing structural reforms and putting people back to work, according to Larry Venus, a spokesman for state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga.

“It sounds like we’re beating an old drum but until that happens California will be looking at these issues,” Venus said. “Dutton does not want to cut any positions in parole, no senator does. But ultimately, when we get more tax dollars it will have an impact on parole. We have to get to the point where we are spending money we bring in.

“One percent of unemployment rate equals 200,000 jobs. If we had Texas’ unemployment rate, San Bernardino County would have 800,000 more jobs, and would not be looking at laying off 140 parole officers.”

The 2009 temporary tax increase was passed to help plug a hole in the budget, according to Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.

“Now they are trying to make it a permanent fix,” Hagman said. “Every government agency was supposed to be looking into concessions by their employees or other measures. The temporary taxes were supposed to help them maintain current levels of staffing and get over the bridge. I’m curious to see if they’ve done those concessions.”

According to Scray, the county’s Probation Department has done its share of trimming already.

“Our budget has been cut over $6 million in the past several years,” she said. “This past year we were forced to (eliminate) numerous (staff) positions and close the West Valley Juvenile Detention and Assessment Center.”

The funding dilemma can be resolved without extending the increase in VLF, Hagman said.

Assembly Bill 192, introduced by Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, and Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, would designate $500 million a year from the general fund for law enforcement.

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