A costly cut? Or overreaction to pending budget reduction? | Editorial

Are the San Juans about to become the Wild West for criminals? Hardly.

At first glance, we thought public safety would be compromised with a $110,000 cut to the sheriff’s department and a $30,600 reduction to the prosecutor’s office.

Sheriff Rob Nou will be unable to fill a deputy position on Orcas Island, which at this point remains vacant, and must do without a part-time dispatcher, also an unfilled post, because of the drop in 2012 funding. Prosecuting attorney Randy Gaylord said he will be forced reduce the hours of the attorney assigned to handle misdemeanor cases by half.

“We will refocus on those cases that involve injuries to people, and especially domestic violence, driving under the influence, and other serious charges involving reckless and damaging conduct,” Gaylord said. “My goal is to keep the community safe, but it is not practical to expect that offenders will be held accountable in the same way that we have been able to do in the past.”

Some people in the community have commented that this reduction in misdemeanor cases  might streamline the court system. So we decided to take a look at what other counties allot for their criminal justice departments.

The San Juan County prosecuting attorney’s office will begin 2012 with a budget of $954,783 and 9.5 full-time employees, plus 1.5 FTEs in victims services. While most of that money comes from the county’s general fund, about $227,000 comes from outside grants. The sheriff’s department will operate with a $2.4 million budget. Our population is 15,769, per the 2010 census.

In Jefferson County, population 30,900, the 2012 PA budget is $866,030 and the sheriff’s budget is $5 million. In Pacific County (in the southwest corner of state), population 20,900, the 2011 PA budget was $752,439. That same year, the sheriff’s budget was $1.3 million.

In Skamania, at population 11,150, the 2011 PA budget was $470,736. That department has three attorneys and two staff members.

It would appear that our county is on the high end of budget allocations. Might it be time to reevaluate how we run these departments?

San Juan County isn’t known for its high crime rate, so why is this much money required to fight crime and prosecute criminals?


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