By Fred Obee

Triplicate editor

The state's budget crisis is jeopardizing money for 15 law enforcement and criminal justice positions in Del Norte County.

The county Board of Supervisors yesterday notified those departments to curtail spending to salaries and benefits only.

andquot;It's pretty much a fiasco,andquot; said county Supervisor David Finigan.

Affected by the decision are departments receiving Office of Criminal Justice Planning funding. They include the Sheriff's Office, the District Attorney's Office and the Victim Witness Division.

Programs include the drug task force and specialized grants to fight child abuse and domestic violence. Four positions on the drug task force and five in the Victim Witness Division are funded with that money. The balance of the positions are spread throughout law and justice departments.

County Administrative Officer Jeannine Galitioto said the state has advised counties they will be on their own if they spend money on those programs beyond what the state Legislature eventually approves. The budget draft now under consideration would fund those programs at only 50 percent of their current budgets.

andquot;That would be devastating for us,andquot; said county District Attorney Bob Drossel. andquot;We're already tight. The grants we get just barely get us by for salary and benefits. If they cut that 50 percent it would be a mess. It would definitely be a severe impact.andquot;

Drossel said he's hoping state law and justice organizations lobbying for more money can be successful, but county Supervisor Chuck Blackburn said, in a recent visit to Sacramento, veteran legislative hands were lamenting this year's budget stalemate, calling it the worst they have seen in some time.

andquot;People are not putting their noses to the grindstoneandquot; to solve the budget mess, Blackburn said.

As an aside, the supervisors said California's budget crisis appears to be exacerbated by the lack of strong leadership in the Legislature, an effect of term limits pushing experienced legislators out of government.

andquot;It's evident there's no leader this year,andquot; Finigan said.

The state's financial predicament was brought on by unprecedented purchases of power last year and a downturn in the economy following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Legislators are trying to fashion a budget that accounts for a $24 billion deficit.