Friday, July 18, 2014



Note: more on detention facility issue, this in a border county which seldom catches anyone.

Supes, sheriff reach deal on jail funding
Curt Prendergast
jail funding
Sheriff's Lt. Roberto Morales, head of the county jail, left, and Sheriff Antonio Estrada listen to complaints from the county supervisors about the jail district's finances.

Posted: Friday, July 18, 2014 8:05 am | Updated: 9:01 am, Fri Jul 18, 2014.
By Curt Prendergast
Nogales International | 0 comments

After a $1.4 million transfer to the jail district was cut out of the Santa Cruz County budget on July 2, the County Supervisors reached a compromise with the Sheriff's Office to shift up to $450,000 to the district.
The cuts do not touch the state-required $3.1 million annual payment to the jail and the voter-approved sales tax revenue expected to bring in about $2.8 million in fiscal year 2014-15. Instead, the $450,000 will make up the difference between the sales tax revenue and the annual $3.2 million payment needed to service the $44.5 million in bonds issued in 2008 to build the county jail.

During a meeting Wednesday, the county supervisors unanimously approved the allocation, which came in under the $600,000 Sheriff Antonio Estrada said he needed to maintain current staffing levels and house an average of about 40 U.S. Marshal's Service holds, which generally are migrants caught trying to cross the border illegally and bring in $65 per inmate daily.

"Anything less than that puts us in a very precarious situation," Estrada said.
The funds will give the Sheriff's Office "a little room to work with" as the county tries to find a permanent solution to the jail's financial troubles, said Supervisor Rudy Molera.

Supervisor Manuel Ruiz called the move "a fair compromise," given the county's financial position, while Supervisor John Maynard told Estrada the supervisors are trying to "meet you halfway on this."
While the allocation approved Wednesday was less than the amount Estrada requested, it was an improvement over the $2.4 million cut previously suggested by the supervisors, which Estrada said was "totally unreasonable" and would "gut" the department and create public safety issues.

If the jail does not have enough staff to hold local people accused of crimes, "they're going to be out there" in the community, Estrada said. Low staffing levels also could prohibit the jail from holding daily commitments from the courts, and therefore deny those accused of crimes the chance to work and support their families.

Ruiz pointed to a staffing report that indicates the Sheriff's Office is "top heavy" in administration.
"Why can't you move your administrative teams down into detention and that way you don't have to give any pink slips?" Ruiz asked, noting the report was for 240 inmates, more than twice the 102 currently being held at the jail.

Sheriff's Lt. Roberto Morales, who runs the jail, said the report was only a draft and did not take into account the staffing needed to work the jail's classification system, in which inmates are separated according to security risk.

The jail is staffed by 45 officers, seven less than national corrections standards, Morales said. If the jail were to change its classification system, the jail would still need 47 officers to meet those standards.
"The first to know there is a reduction in jail workforce are the inmates," Morales said, noting an incident last week in which inmates "confronted" two jail officers.
"As staff numbers go down, liability goes up," he said, as well as increases in officer fatigue, burnout, turnover, and unexpected overtime.

A matter of luck
While recognizing the potential public safety issues, all three supervisors pointed to the cost the county has had to shoulder as revenues declined at the jail district, including a $1 million payment in July 2013.
"I have nothing but praise for the Sheriff's Office," Molera said, but the jail is operating at less than 25-percent occupancy. "It's very difficult to continue to pump money into a situation that is not moving forward."
"It's a matter of luck," Molera said of the declining number of federal inmates, which is caused by a number of variables beyond the county's control.

Ruiz noted other departments, such as health, sanitation, and public works, also are responsible for public safety.
"We have to make a decision and what you're asking us to do is decide that out of all the departments and all the employees here, your employees are the most important ones," he said.
"We've gone into our savings year after year after year and there comes a point in time where we're not going to have those kinds of savings," Ruiz said. "Hopefully, with this it will stem it a little bit."

County Manager Carlos Rivera stated at a previous meeting the county would run out of cash reserves by 2016 if it continues to spend at the current rate without an increase in revenues.

Maynard said he agreed the county needed a new jail to replace the aging facility on Hohokam Drive.
"We all knew that and we all agreed upon that," he said, adding he expected the county's required payment, sales tax revenue, and U.S. Marshal's holds to cover the jail's operating costs.
"I don't know that I can continue to support your department more than any other department in the county," Maynard said, adding he has looked at the problem in a number of ways without finding a solution.
"I feel I have been personally very fair and very honorable and I've spent three years as a supervisor in discussion with you and members of your department," he said.

Since January, he has told county staff he likely could not support making another $1 million payment to the jail.
Maynard thanked Estrada for discussing the matter with him, including a meeting "over coffee," that allowed Maynard to speak freely "out of the limelight of a public hearing, where quite frankly I'm not comfortable always saying what's truly on my mind, but having to say certain things that I think are important to say in such a setting."

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