EVERETT — Some unfinished work on Snohomish County’s budget has raised the specter of layoffs at the sheriff’s office and in other county departments.
When County Council members passed a budget in November, they asked most departments to figure out how to trim an extra 1 percent during the coming year. The percentage varies by department. The council tasked the executive’s office with identifying specific savings by the end of March.
All told, $1.4 million in spending needs to go to balance the $230 million operating budget.
With criminal justice taking up about 75 cents of every dollar the county spends, law enforcement and the courts are unavoidable targets.
The sheriff oversees patrol deputies, detectives and the jail. Spending in those areas account for $100 million in this year’s operating budget — about 40 percent of the county’s total day-to-day expenditures.
For Sheriff Ty Trenary, the requested cuts total $570,000 — just over half a percent of his office’s budget.
“The Sheriff’s Office is unable to make any cuts to our 2016 budget at this time without layoffs,” Trenary wrote in an email.
It’s unclear whether that would involve deputies. The agency has not had to lay off any deputies since at least the late 1990s, though 20 positions for commissioned officers were eliminated in the 2010 budget. The office avoided layoffs through attrition and by not filling vacant positions.
“We will work closely with Executive (Dave) Somers and members of the County Council to prioritize services and maintain fiscal responsibility,” Trenary said.
The sheriff said he needs all available resources to combat the ongoing heroin epidemic, which has caused a rise in theft, fraud, stolen vehicles, burglary and other crimes.
“We cannot afford to reduce the number of patrol deputies, which the proposed reduction may require us to do,” he said.
A potential solution lies in partnerships with other law enforcement agencies, such as the unit the sheriff’s office formed last year with city and tribal police departments to combat property crime in north county, Trenary said.
County Council Chairman Terry Ryan pledged to find an agreement to avoid losing deputies.
“We have to balance the books, but I’m not in favor of laying off any deputies,” Ryan said. “I just won’t do that.”
Ryan said the council will attempt to find other funding sources, if necessary.
Somers, who became executive this year after serving on the County Council, wants to stop the yearly practice of telling department heads to under-spend their allotted budget. For now, he’s stuck with it. It’s known as a service level reduction or SLR for short.
“We have specifically kept the impact of the SLR to a minimum for our public safety agencies to ensure our community is not adversely affected by these necessary reductions,” Somers’ office said in a statement. “We will work with our partners to ensure Snohomish County continues to provide the best possible service to our community while being responsible stewards of the public purse.”
The county has used service level reductions since 2008 because spending has outpaced tax revenues. It was supposed to be a temporary practice, but has become a fixture of the budget process.
Though the cut to the sheriff’s office is proportionately less than other departments, the size of the agency means it’s in for a big hit.
Other large cuts likely will affect public safety and the courts: $216,000 for the Superior Court, $153,000 for the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and $95,000 for District Court.