Led by Jack Sweeney, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors voted Monday morning not to cut $1.5 million in programs recommended for reduction by the chief administrative officer — saving senior programs, University of California Cooperative Extension programs (4-H, Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers), the county museum and Geographical Information Services.
Library services and activities related to implementation of the county’s General Plan were spared 50 percent of the their recommended cuts, $125,000 and $100,000, respectively.
Although the CAO Gayle Erbe-Hamlin’s original recommendation called for a reduction of $100,000 from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Supervisor Norma Santiago put up stiff resistance to the notion. A temporary solution explained by department head Bill Schultz satisfied the board; the current level of services could be maintained into next spring by maintaining an open but unfunded veterans claims officer position, he said. An experienced vet rep under the county’s extra-help program currently fills that role.
Sweeney had presented a written proposal containing the items he said he thought his colleagues would agree to preserve. It included three senior programs, UCCE programs, the museum and GIS. However, he included a ninth recommendation that would have taken the aggregate $1.5 million directly out of the county sheriff’s budget instead. That part of the motion was deleted before the vote.
“Since 2003 we have given generously to the Sheriff’s Department. We have already made some cuts but the sheriff’s budget is still the biggest proportion of the General Fund. They have more high paid employees than the rest of the county. I know we must have good law enforcement but we must cut somewhere.,” Sweeney wrote. “Is it righteous to spend nearly $300 per person for law enforcement and shut off the humanitarian and human interest programs?”
Sweeney’s calculations show that the 185,000 residents of the county pay $287.57 “per capita” to fund the sheriff’s current $53.2 million budget. By reducing the per capita amount to $261.62, the department budget would be $48.4 million next year.
“I believe the public would be able to survive at this rate or even lower.”
He concluded with the following: “To the current sheriff, the incoming sheriff and the department employees, I apologize for this proposal. I know the department can achieve these cuts without compromising your high standards. The people of this county need your help.”
As of 5:30 p.m. Monday the board had not yet determined how or from where to make up the money saved for the eight protected programs.
By the time the meeting got under way shortly after 9 a.m. the supervisors’ chambers were standing room only, and many dozens more stood in Building B’s lobby. Sheriff’s deputies wearing their white DSA union T-shirts were much in evidence, and both interim Sheriff Fred Kollar and Sheriff-elect John D’Agostini stayed for most of the morning session.
About two dozen young people and their supporters in their distinctive green-and-white 4-H uniforms presented one of the strongest single blocs of residents asking that their programs not be eliminated.
Military veterans lined one wall of the room wearing VFW caps and led the support for director Schultz when he told the board, “Without the veterans, we wouldn’t be here today … experiencing our democracy.”