Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva would get a little more than half of the $143.7 million in public safety dollars he is asking for, under a terse plan introduced Wednesday, April 22 — the latest step in supervisors’ efforts to rein in the department’s budget overruns.
Tension over the budget is just the latest feud between the board and the sheriff, elected in an upset in November 2018. Supervisors earlier replaced Villanueva as director of the county’s Emergency Operations Center with county CEO Sachi Hamai, handing her control of dozens of agencies dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl moved to release about $83 million of Villanueva’s requested funding for capital expenses and “unforeseen” costs related to the pandemic. The decree would require Villanueva to continue to work with Hamai to review and reduce department costs.
The board is set to consider the motion on Tuesday. At stake, Villaneuva said in a letter to the board, would be his ability to pay for:
- Rape-test kits
- Toxicology services and supplies
- Maintenance for patrol vehicles and helicopters
- And expenses to maintain current training standards
Villanueva said the pandemic spurred unexpected expenses, including the need to purchase:
- Temperature scanners
- And other personal-protection supplies.
Some of the up-front costs might be reimbursed later, but he said the money is “needed now.” But Kuehl, citing persistent sheriff’s department budget deficits, proposed that Villaneuva submit a plan to cut spending and return $63 million from last year’s deficit to the county’s general fund.
As it is, Kuehl said, the department is projected to end the year $89 million in the red — despite cuts she’s proposing and $20-$30 million in savings already hashed out between Villaneuva and Hamai.
“No county department can be permitted to accrue significant deficits year after year,” Kuehl said in a statement. “It’s not fair to taxpayers, and it’s detrimental to the overall county budget since the overrun reduces funding to the budgets of other essential departments.”
Specifically, Kuehl urged the elimination of two training academy classes this year, which would save $12 million, and cutting total classes to four next year, which would save another $49 million.
Squabbles over the sheriff’s budget prompted Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis in October to seek to “sequester” the $143 million in a holding account.
Villanueva requested that the money be unlocked, saying his department had little control over overtime and other expenses caused by recent emergencies, including:
- The helicopter crash near Calabasas that killed Kobe Bryant and seven others in January
- The Nov. 14 shooting at Saugus High School that killed three and wounded three others
- And the enduring coronavirus pandemic.
The sheriff also cited unexpected liability judgments, retirement payouts, retiree health expenses and workers compensation costs.
Villanueva said he needs funding to purchase supplies and maintain his department’s fleet of aging vehicles, including rescue and patrol helicopters.
Some vehicles that need repairs are sitting unused in a lot, he said, and others are not getting regular maintenance. “They’re basically strung together with baling wire.,” he said.
Many vehicles also need to be outfitted with new radios and computers, he said.
Villanueva also said money for cleaning supplies for the county’s jails “was wiped out early on. Now we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, just to purchase and maintain a stock of the necessary hygiene supplies to keep our jails clean.”
The sheriff said his department’s stock of rape kits was running low. “That all takes money — to be able to process these sexual assault kits, to gather DNA, to establish identity,” he said. “It requires a lot of supplies. Right now we have almost run out of supplies.”
The department is not alone facing expense cuts, as the county’s sales-tax and other revenue are humbled by “Safer at Home” orders triggered by the COVID-19 crisis.
The county will endure a 50-75% drop in sales-tax income from March through the end of the current fiscal year, and likely a 25% drop for the next, officials said. All told, the county’s government is projected to take a $2 billion revenue hit into the middle of next year. That’s on top of more than $600 million already spent on dealing with the pandemic.
In response, county officials froze hiring and asked for contingency cuts from 10% to 20% to 25% for its departments.
Aid is expected from federal emergency stimulus funding, but Kuehl said none of it is reason to “rack up massive deficits each year,” pointing to the sheriff’s department.