Supervisor Dan Hamburg and Sheriff Tom Allman appeared in Boonville last Thursday night to discuss Anderson Valley's popular but now-you-see-him, now-you-don't resident deputy, Craig Walker. Walker is often compelled to work in the Ukiah and Point Arena-Gualala areas because of a shortage of patrol deputies; that shortage is mostly attributable to the County's persistent failure to pay its deputies comparable to the Ukiah Police Department and neighboring counties.
About 40 locals showed up at the Fire Department meeting room to discuss the problem. The Community Action Coalition's Beverly Dutra led the discussion.
Former CAC director Colleen Schenck said that local people were disappointed to have lost Deputy Walker after all the work that was done to secure a resident deputy for the Anderson Valley. She added that if it's so hard to keep resident deputies, the system is broken.
Retired Anderson Valley Fire Chief Colin Wilson said that most Valley people support the Sheriff's Office and are not complaining — they recognize the need for allocating limited resources where needed — "but we are upset that the resident deputy has been reassigned."
Sheriff Allman explained the history of the present dilemma: In 1972 the Sheriff's Office had 42 patrol deputy positions and today, some 40 years later, there are 43, not all of them filled. The relatively small population of Mendocino County has been relatively flat since that time, but the workload for law enforcement associated with new mandates such as domestic violence and child abuse requires more deputy time. Allman described the situation as a table with a tablecloth that is too short: you pull on one end and you uncover the other end.
The Sheriff said his department was spending $2.5 million per year on overtime, much of that at the jail, but also a lot for patrol to make up for the short staffing.
The Sheriff’s Department offers a variety of incentives for resident deputies, including a 5% bump in salary, personal use of the patrol car, a K-9 unit, and completion bonuses after certain numbers of years of service up to four years.
Resident deputies also have to be a good fit with the communities they police, and it takes six months between hiring and putting a deputy on patrol, the Sheriff said. Allman said he recently told the Board of Supervisors that salaries needed to be restored to a level that existed prior to the 10% cut they took during the County's budget crisis, but County revenues remain flat.
Recently two newly hired deputies who got about $19 an hour as new hires left the department to take positions for the Ukiah Police Department at a starting salary of about $28 an hour.
Allman said his department had recently hired seven new recruits; and they will undergo field training and as many as five of them are expected to complete that training and be assigned to patrol, assuming these people stay and retirements and resignations don't reduce the net number of deputies in the field.
The tentative agreement between the County and the Deputy Sheriffs Association does not restore the 10% cut; in fact, after discounting pension subsidy givebacks, the deal amounts to approximately a 5% net pay restoration over the next two years.
Allman said that his budget is not the problem — he had been running under budget for years because of the understaffing problem even with increased overtime. In addition, the money taken in by the District Attorney's innovative marijuana restitution policy is being used for vacation buyouts, which means that deputies are paid to stay on patrol longer instead of taking vacation. Allman pointed out that while he controls the Sheriff's budget, the Supervisors control the salaries.
The Sheriff conceded that people are tired of hearing, "Help is on the way," implying that he was well aware he was saying it again.
Beverly Dutra said that she was aware of a low level of petty crime in Anderson Valley that Deputy Walker continuously nipped in the bud when he was present full-time. Mrs. Dutra understood that Walker could be reassigned for short durations, but meanwhile drug activity, especially in the schools, needs a resident deputy to be prevented from regaining a foothold.
High School Principal Michelle Hutchins told Allman about drug activity at the school that needed more attention. Allman said that she needed to contact Sgt. Brewster, who now runs the Mendocino County Major Crimes Task Force, for help with such things. Allman also said that if there were problems with the law enforcement response Ms. Hutchins should call him directly. (The personable Allman has always been accessible and is justifiably praised for responding to calls for help.)
Allman also pointed out that the Proposition 172 sales tax passed in the 1990s was supposed to be for "public safety," but was instead placed directly into the County's general fund, and from there was passed to non-law-enforcement departments proportionately. District Attorney Eyster has pointed out that he thinks it's illegal to use the money for anything but law enforcement, so unless the Board acts, that allegedly illegal arrangement will stay in place.
When Allman said that deputy salaries were lower than the "10 county average" for comparable counties — a number that is required to be calculated by terms of the Deputy Sheriff’s labor contract — several people wanted to know what the exact numbers were from those counties. But Allman said they had not done a survey recently and didn't have a number.
Supervisor Hamburg quoted former Third District Supervisor John Pinches who once said that the county did not have a spending problem but a revenue problem. The 10% cut imposed on County employees in 2009 was forced on the County by declining revenues with the budget eventually balanced on the backs of the employees.
Hamburg then drifted into discussions of other demands on the general fund we all are aware of, such as the capital improvement program (facilities repairs and upgrades), the restoration of the County's still small reserve, the relatively small percentage of the County's total budget that is "discretionary," and the large portion of the discretionary money that goes to law enforcement, the $1200 bonus recently granted to most employees (not to patrol deputies), the poor condition of County roads and the ongoing expense of road maintenance.
Former LA cop Kirk Wilder, reminded Hamburg that Hamburg had drifted off the point and asked exactly what the Supervisors were doing to improve the county's financial picture.
Hamburg replied that he was working on getting light industry onto the old Masonite industrial park. This is an ancient platitude invoked ever since Masonite departed, and Hamburg, as others before him, offered no examples of what he had in mind.
The Supervisor also said he was working on a novel housing development in Hopland area (an indirect reference to the so-called "Mendovito" fantasy proposed by outside developers, which "envisions" a "self-contained" new city in McDowell Valley east of Hopland. That the proposal was roundly criticized by everyone along the 101 corridor — for such obvious reasons as water availability and non-existence of accompanying jobs — seemed to perplex the notoriously autocratic and thin-skinned Hamburg who said, “It was like I was trying to bring the Third Reich back into Mendocino County.” (Good lord!)
Responding to Hamburg's claim that the County's is only now seeing some revenue recovery back to pre-2009 levels, Dave Severn asked, If the revenues prior to 2009 have been restored, as Hamburg said, why couldn't the salaries be restored to that same level?
Hamburg replied that pension and health-care costs have gone up and that the state had recently disallowed $4.5 million of Mental Health costs, adding (to our surprise) that this was an improvement from years ago. (We have yet to confirm this, nor what period it covers; we have made inquiries to the County CEO's office. If it really is part of the reason that deputies can not be paid adequately, it needs to be fixed — now). Supposedly the privatization of Mental Health was in part intended to eliminate the high level of disallowed mental health services (MediCal) costs problem that has plagued the County budget for years.
When AV High School Principal Hutchins suggested that Hamburg make calls to neighboring counties himself to find out what their average deputy salaries are, Hamburg, perhaps surprised that his constituents might expect him to actually perform a simple task on their behalf, haughtily replied, “That's why we have a Human Resources Department,” and that the County was "beginning to restore" employee pay to pre-2009 levels.
Principal Hutchins also wondered why the Anderson Valley, given the mighty slug of taxes it pays, can't get a resident deputy, an essential government service. Hamburg replied that the County isn't set up to “balkanize” finances that way, allocating money to various regions in proportion to tax revenue.
Sheriff Allman broached the novel idea (novel in Mendocino County anyway) of communities directly sweetening a deputy's take-home pay, bypassing the Puzzle Palace in Ukiah. He didn't know if it was legal, he didn't know how injuries or healthcare issues would be handled, and, he said, other sheriffs he'd discussed the idea with it had declared it “nuts.”
Beverly Dutra mentioned that in Oregon they have something called “enhanced law-enforcement districts” which provide incentives for resident deputies.
CSD Trustee Neil Darling pointed out that in theory the CSD could enact their "latent power" for police protection. But, as Allman explained, as a practical matter that would end up with something like a Sheriff's deputy anyway since the person would need to be a fully qualified “peace officer,” (and the rigamarole required to implement that “latent” power is onerous.)
Allman said he briefly considered making all the patrol deputies "acting sergeants" to bump up their pay, but then, he mused, what do you do with the sergeants, make them "acting lieutenants”? And do the lieutenants become acting captains, and do the captains become acting sheriffs?
When Terry Ryder suggested that the department try to recruit older guys who do not need training who might be interested in finishing their careers as rural resident deputies, Allman replied that he had tried something like that a few years ago with a recruitment involving sending out a thousand recruitment notices to police departments all over Southern California and got back a total of one (1) application. Kirk Wilder, the retired LA cop, said that when individuals look at their own financial situation overall as they near the end of their career, such ideas do not pencil out financially and most prefer to simply finish their careers where they are.
Hamburg said the County was willing to consider a possible sales tax measure, but, like all the other suggestions that pop up now and then, such ideas so far have not gone anywhere at the Board level.
Allman said he he felt that it was important to introduce resident deputy candidates to the Valley whenever possible, such as holding informal meet and greet sessions at Lauren's Restaurant as was done when Deputy Walker was hired.
Elementary school principal Donna Pierson-Pugh remarked, "We've already got one! We don't need to be introduced to a new one!"
Allman said that while he was paying a lot of overtime, overtime amounted to less then the cost of new hires because overtime does not require an additional vehicle, additional pension benefits, health care benefits, etc. But there is a limit to how much overtime can be used because of safety considerations, burnout, morale, and additional pressure on deputies to leave the department for higher paid jobs that do not require as much overtime.
In total, patrol deputies cost around $120,000 per year per deputy on average when including salary, pension, health care, patrol car, etc.
Allman insisted that his department had not excommunicated Anderson Valley and that when his department's staffing is back up to full strength, Anderson Valley will get back its two authorized resident deputies.
As the meeting ended, Sheriff Allman thanked the group for their civil tone and willingness to listen. A wag in the room replied, “We can fix that.”