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LA County Supervisors Vote To Freeze Sheriff's Spending After $63M Budget Shortfall

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took Sheriff Alex Villanueva to task Tuesday over his handling of the sheriff department's budget —voting unanimously to freeze hiring of administrative and clerical personnel.

Sachi Hamai, chief executive officer for the county, said increasing overtime was a driving factor for the $63 million budget shortfall. According to Hamai, the department's deficit ballooned from $25 million to $62 million and then $90 million in just three months — taking the county budget team by surprise.

"here seems to be something going on with the overtime budget," Hamai said.

While Villanueva has managed to hire, train and swear in a number of new deputies to fill vacant positions, which had previously proven difficult, Hamai said department overtime continued to grow.

And while supervisors said that overtime spending has always been an issue at the sheriff's department, Hamai said the difference was that the department is no longer struggling to fill hundreds of new positions required to comply with settlement agreements and changing state laws — yet overtime spending continued to grow.

The county reimbursed the sheriff's department $16 million to cover costs related to the Woolsey fire and gave the department another $11 million paid out on judgments and settlements in order to reduce the deficit. The county also covered the remainder of the deficit to close the books for the fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Along with the hiring freeze, the board also pushed for a deficit mitigation plan and recommended a review of the budget — but Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said this action was not personal.

"It's important not to trivialize this action," Kuehl said. "We are taking $63 million that could be (spent) somewhere else."

An administrative director for the department said that workers' compensation and retiree costs were part of the problem, but Hamai said that the county was already helping all departments fund those costs and said that she expected a review by the auditor-controller would turn up other factors that contributed to the deficit.

Hamai also said that Villanueva failed to adjust the department's expected revenues after he chose not to apply for certain federal or state grants and also might not have collected other revenues due to the department.

"Decisions he makes really (do) have an impact in trying to control his budget," Hamai said.

Villanueva said he was committed to working with the board, but urged the supervisors to fund his department adequately, which he said needed $3.9 billion, compared to the current funding of about $3.5 billion.

"We are currently the most understaffed law enforcement agency in the United States," the sheriff said.

According to Villanueva, Los Angeles County has less than one deputy for every 1,000 residents, compared to a national average of 2.5.

In a statement released later Tuesday evening, Villanueva reiterated his commitment to the safety of the county, and called on supervisors to fund the department:

"Our operations are an open book, and if anyone can identify what can be improved upon we are open to constructive criticism and a collaborative effort in delivering public safety services effectively and cost consciously," Villanueva said. "This motion may not be the most appropriate avenue to do the hard work of identifying what activities should be funded, and at what levels, so perhaps we all need to reset our efforts. The county's budget, like any public budget, is a political document that speaks to the funding priorities of each member of the board. I want to encourage the Board of Supervisors to fund the true cost of providing public safety, which is approximately $3.9 billion in today's dollars. I will commit myself to providing that safety to the public that deserves nothing less."

The supervisors also agreed to examine the costs of running the department, directed the auditor-controller to transfer $143 million out of the department to be held until a mitigation plan is developed and called for quarterly progress reports from the sheriff's department going forward.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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