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L.A. Sheriff Says Last Year’s Overtime Cuts Aren’t Sustainable

To deal with a multimillion-dollar deficit, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department cut $99.9 million in overtime. But as crime and homicides increase across the county, officials say that’s not feasible this year.

(TNS) — The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department took drastic measures to successfully cut overtime costs to deal with a multi-million-dollar deficit over the last two fiscal years. But the agency says such cuts are not sustainable at last year's pace, given an increase in crime and homicides in the county and an emerging semblance of pre-COVID-19 life, according to a county report.

The overtime cuts — totaling $99.9 million — made a significant dent in the department's deficit, and yet still exceeded the agency's $129 million overtime budget by $50.8 million, according to the report, unveiled ahead of the Tuesday, Nov. 30, Board of Supervisors meeting, where the department's fiscal condition will be up for review.

The review comes amid fiscal and operational challenges for several county departments, hit by falling revenues amid the pandemic — and with a hiring freeze is still in effect.

Amid the pandemic, and the associated countrywide shutdowns, spurred the department to shift duties and reassign custody staff to reduce overtime hours and other costs.

According to the report, by County Chief Executive Officer Fesia A. Davenport, changes included temporary reassignment of custody and patrol staff "to duties that would have otherwise been met with personnel working overtime."

It didn't hurt that court operations, jail visitation, training and security needs at schools and events were all curtailed over the last two fiscal years, which also allowed the department to cut overtime costs.

But those days are over, according to the report, noting that the department will still need to find ways to keep costs down.

"LASD, like the rest of the county, is being impacted by the steady reopening and uneven economy as the efforts to slowly, but safely, return to a modified version of pre-COVID-19 operations continue," according to the report. That includes court services, jail visitation and deputy supervision at events and schools.

The overtime savings of last fiscal year are "not sustainable," the department reported.

That's because of an increase in violent crime, an increase in the number of public records requests, narcotics enforcement and what the agency said was a cut in the number of budgeted academy classes from 12 to 4, "resulting in a slowdown in LASD's ability to fill vacancies and therefore requiring the use of overtime to address the vacancy," according to the department.

County officials pointed to overtime costs that have already been increasing, prompting the report's emphasis on the need to keep such costs down, if the department is to keep its $3.6 billion budget balanced, according to the report.

The issue of rising overtime costs comes in the context of ongoing budget tension between the Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff. Supervisors have been trying to rein in Sheriff's Department cost overruns.

Last year, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl moved to release about $83 million of the $144 million Sheriff Alex Villanueva requested to deal with capital expenses and costs related to the pandemic, but it was contingent on Villanueva continuing to work the county CEO's office to review and reduce expenses.

Villanueva said the sharp cuts would affect a bevvy of services, from toxicology services to maintenance of patrol vehicles to training standards.

In particular, Kuehl had urged the elimination of some training academy classes, which would save tens of millions of dollars. It was a sore spot for Villanueva, who wanted the department to unlock the full $144 million.

But Kuehl and other supervisors pointed to ongoing department deficits each year that Kuehl said were "not fair to taxpayers" and "detrimental to the overall county budget."

While budget reductions of more than $145 million have eliminated 1,281 LASD-wide positions, according to the report, the CEO noted that the austerity has prompted "progress" in trimming budget.

For the first time since fiscal year 2016-17, the department's budget is balanced, including the repaying of a $63.4 million loan to the department to address the department's 2018-19 budget deficit.

"However, the mitigation efforts to achieve a balanced budget were mostly one-time in nature and cannot be used by LASD on an ongoing basis," the CEO said in the report.

And even though overtime was among the most "impactful" challenges, there are others, according to the report.

They include:

— A contract with the L.A. Community College District which is set to expire, which could result in a loss of revenue;

— The need for more staff to address increases in the jail population;

— The need for more funding to address increasing violent crime, homelessness and illegal cannabis issues; and

— Infrastructure costs, such as technology and equipment.

County officials say keeping department costs down — including overtime — will require keeping a close eye on issues that pop over the year.

It could mean implementing financial strategies that include "closely monitoring spending as needed to ensure LASD continues to appropriately manage its budget."


(c)2021 the Daily News (Los Angeles) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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