10:23 PM PDT on Thursday, May 26, 2011

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff outlined a budget proposal this week that he said reduces a $60 million budget gap in his department to $17 million and would eliminate the need for large-scale layoffs.

An imposed pay cut on the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, the union representing deputies, and a potential contract with the new city of Jurupa Valley will help close the gap.

To further reduce the shortfall, Sniff said he would gradually reduce his department’s force through attrition, rather than through as many as 500 layoffs.

“We are close, but there is still a significant gap,” Sniff said in an interview Wednesday.

“If you don’t have the money, take the force down gradually and not dramatically,” Sniff said. “You will achieve savings without a lot of chaos.”

Sniff sketched the proposal Tuesday during a meeting with supervisors Marion Ashley and Jeff Stone and other county officials, including County Executive Officer Bill Luna and Chief Financial Officer Ed Corser.

“I floated the idea that seemed to resonate in the room,” Sniff said. “It makes it a little bit more reachable for the county.”

He said he’ll present a formal proposal to supervisors June 13.

The sheriff has said he needs about $285 million in general fund support to maintain operations at current levels in unincorporated areas and at the county’s five jails.

The county executive office has recommended providing $225 million as officials work to permanently align expenses with ongoing revenues. That puts the budget gap at $60 million.

The department expects to save about $12 million from an imposed contract on the sheriff’s association. Overall, the contract would save between $25 million and $28 million, but the amount is divided between contract cities and other departments. The union has objected to the imposed terms.

If Jurupa Valley pays the Sheriff’s Department for police protection starting July 1, the county would see an additional $13 million in estimated savings, county officials said.

From there, Sniff said he would reduce the staffing ratio in unincorporated areas from one deputy per 1,000 residents to 0.75 through attrition. The savings would come gradually over the fiscal year.

He said specialized units, such as the gang task force, would remain largely in tact.

Ashley said the meeting with the sheriff went well and the savings through attrition could approach $17 million between sworn and civilian employees.

“Suddenly you are getting there. We keep the jails open. Keep the gang task force intact,” Ashley said. “We still have a tremendous public safety net. We can make this work.”

In addition, the county is expected to see increases in Prop. 172 sales tax revenues next year, Ashley said. Prop. 172 is a special sales tax for public safety approved by voters statewide in 1993.

Ashley said sheriff’s employees are worried about the potential layoffs.

To overcome his shortfall all at once, Sniff has said as many as 500 layoffs and the closure of 800 jail beds may be needed.

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