By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
A public safety crisis will befall Del Norte County if the budget passed by the California Senate Sunday is approved by Gov. Gray Davis.
That is the word from Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson, who said the budget passed by the senate would take $800,000 from already stretched local patrols.
At stake are at least seven jobs now paid for with a $500,000 Rural and Small Counties Sheriff's Grant that the senate took away in its budget version.
"A quarter of our patrol force is reliant on that grant, because the county doesn't have the general fund dollars to keep us at a minimum staffing. If this budget continues to go through the state Assembly unchecked, it will severely impact Del Norte County," Wilson said.
The Senate also took away the sheriff's right to charge Crescent City and the state for booking inmates from those other jurisdictions a loss of another $300,000 in income.
Wilson said Del Norte charges the state about $260,000 per year to house about 25 low-security state-prison inmates.
He said the state prisons are out of room and commonly ask counties for jail space to house the overflow.
"We'll be facing a massive release of state inmates statewide because of this. I don't fully believe that the Senate has thought out the full impact of that, because counties like ours can't absorb the cost of keeping them," said Wilson.
Del Norte also charges Crescent City about $40,000 per year to house city inmates, as the Crescent City Police Department does not have its own jail. Wilson said cities are able to pass on that cost to the state. And though the state is now looking to rid itself of that bill, it is not willing to allow cities to be charged for it.
Annual grants to prevent crime among youth were also cut, along with grants to give officers yearly training.
Wilson said Del Norte's new state senator, Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley), tried to fight the budget version but lost.
"It was a losing fight, but he did actually vote against it. This proposal really placed in jeopardy the level of service for public safety that we've become dependent upon in this community.
"We have already cut down to a bare-bones operation in an attempt to lessen our pull on the county's general-fund dollars," Wilson said.
Just after the California Senate passed the state budget Sunday evening, it began vacation and will not return until Aug. 17.
Monday, the budget was sent to the state Assembly for a vote, with only one week before its recess.
Wilson said the Assembly has vowed to pass a budget before its recess, and that could mean the Senate's cuts would stand untouched.
After that, the budget goes to the governor for his approval.
"Our fear is that the governor, facing a serious recall threat, won't say no to something that both the Senate and Assembly have passed," Wilson said.
With only five or six days to make the case for small counties, which will hurt most from the cuts, Wilson is pleading with the public, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and Assembly Member Patty Berg to lobby the Assembly not to pass the budget as is.
If the Assembly changes the budget, it will go back to the Senate for passage Aug. 17 and onto the Assembly again for a final vote.
A final state budget must be passed by mid-October, as required by federal law.