Sheriff blasts board on cuts

Sheriff wants to restructure department in wake of budget cuts

Hagwood says cuts to his department are larger than supervisors are reporting

Dan McDonald
Managing Editor

The Plumas County sheriff said budget cuts will force him to lay off and demote employees.

The county’s Board of Supervisors said the sheriff is free to restructure his department however he chooses — but don’t blame it on budget cuts. The board maintained the sheriff’s department has enough money to get the job done.

Sheriff Greg Hagwood was scheduled to ask the board to approve his restructuring plan at its Tuesday, Oct. 9, meeting.

Hagwood’s request was expected to spark more debate over interpretations of the sheriff’s department’s “complicated” funding sources.

Supervisor Jon Kennedy insisted throughout the budget process that the sheriff can use state-funded grant money from Assembly Bill 443 to help offset the county’s reduced contribution.

But Hagwood argued using the AB 443 money the way the board wants him to is illegal.

“It’s called ‘supplanting,’” Hagwood said. “And the language in the legislation is very specific in prohibiting just this thing. It’s illegal. That has been pointed out to (the supervisors). They know it, but they have done it anyway.”

When asked about the reason for the restructuring, Hagwood said he had no alternative. He blasted the supervisors and said “they were being dishonest” to the public about how much they were cutting his budget.

Hagwood said the supervisors cut his department’s general fund contribution by $775,000, not the $500,000 they reported in a Tuesday, Oct. 2, budget summary authored by Board Chairman Robert Meacher.

“It’s just knowingly dishonest information,” Hagwood said. “Mr. Meacher knows that we took a $775,000 cut. He knows that.”

Meacher said he had no idea what the sheriff was talking about. “And the fact that Sheriff Hagwood says that I know it … That is concerning to me. No one has argued publicly that it is more than $500,000.”

However, Kennedy said that if the county’s proposed contribution to the sheriff and jail were combined, it’s actually $759,656 less than last year.

And the sheriff did make voluntary cuts before the supervisors cut the $500,000 Meacher referred to in his budget summary.

But Kennedy added that “if you look at the whole picture” — including expenses “offset” by AB 443 and AB 109 — the sheriff has about $376,000 less than last year. “And he still hasn’t projected the revenue for AB 443,” Kennedy said.

Hagwood said the restructuring would save his department more than $280,000 annually.

The plan would call for two investigators and two patrol sergeants to be demoted to deputies. Four deputies would become corrections officers at the county jail.
The Sheriff’s Office hours have already been cut back. The office is closed to the public on Thursdays and Fridays. It is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.

Kennedy said he would vote against Hagwood’s restructuring plan if the sheriff said he was doing it because of budget cuts.

“If he is doing it to make his department more efficient, I’m all for that,” Kennedy said.

Hagwood said his proposed restructuring was purely budget-related.

“It’s not a game,” Hagwood said. “And the accusation that I am jeopardizing my staff’s safety, or the safety of the citizens of this county, to play some ‘game’ is insulting.”

Hagwood said “the bottom line” is the Board of Supervisors doesn’t understand his department’s budget. He said he spent a lot of time during the recent budget workshops trying to explain his budget to them.

“I have been honest with the board,” Hagwood said. “But after 3-1/2 years, we are left with a board that has very little understanding of what it is that we do.

“We are talking about public safety and the sheriff department’s ability to meet critical situations in the community,” Hagwood said. “We are talking about real-life crisis in people’s lives. And the public reasonably should expect a reasonable measure of responsiveness.

“But instead, we are spending so much time, and so much effort, dealing with game-playing and posturing,” he said. “The bottom line is the people begin to question the credibility of the leadership in the county. And their suspicion and skepticism is understandable.”

Hagwood said the sheriff’s department — which is supposed to have 20 deputies but currently has 10 on active duty — has absorbed $1.3 million in budget cuts over the last three years.

“Something has to give,” Hagwood said. “We are operating at staffing levels not seen since the 1970s.”

Hagwood said the supervisors balanced the budget at the expense of law enforcement, because it was the easiest way to save money.

“Without question, it was the easiest way to balance the budget,” Hagwood said. “We represent the largest slice of the pie. So you take the largest slice from that.”

Acting budget officer Susan Scarlett said cuts to the sheriff’s department were in line with those to other departments.

“The sheriff’s department is getting a 10 percent general fund reduction, which is less than some other departments have been asked to take,” Scarlett said.

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