LA Supes May Unfreeze $83M Of Sheriff's Budget For Coronavirus, Other Issues

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors may free up nearly $83 million of Sheriff's Department funds it froze seven months ago in response to overspending. The money would help fund a variety of activities, including efforts to keep the jails clean in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The supervisors will take up the motion at their meeting next Tuesday.

The money is part of $143 million the board froze last fall. It would include $7.6 million for coronavirus-related expenses, including face shields, gloves, N95 masks, paper jumpsuits, booties, thermometers and cleaning supplies.

The board has been withholding the funds in an attempt to force Sheriff Alex Villanueva to rein in his deficit spending.

Despite a joint effort to cut costs, the red ink continues to flow at the department. But Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Hilda Solis, said the sheriff needs the money for "essential supplies and equipment," adding, "this will totally cover everything he said he needed."


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The motion is unlikely to satisfy Villanueva, who publicly called on the board this week to release the entire $143 million. He made a similar request in a March 20 letter and in a subsequent letter.

Villanueva said he needs the money to, among other things, buy supplies and equipment to continue processing DNA from rape scenes, install communications equipment in new patrol cars and maintain search-and-rescue helicopters.

"These choppers are going to be grounded, and that's going to impact public safety," the sheriff said at a Monday news conference.

The sheriff's annual budget is $3.3 billion; the department employs nearly 18,000 people.

A GROWING DEFICIT

Villanueva ran a $63 million deficit during his first year in office, according to the county CEO, who says even with savings in overtime and other expenses, the gap is projected to grow to $88.8 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Kuehl urged the sheriff to sharply cut back the training of new recruits, which she said would save $61 million over two years. Villanueva has pursued an aggressive hiring strategy to address a deputy shortage.

Reducing deficits is more important than ever for the sheriff. The county faces a dramatic reduction in revenues as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The county CEO has projected a $1 billion drop in sale tax revenue for this fiscal year.

Villanueva has said he's working with the CEO to reduce costs. Kuehl's motion calls on him to continue to do that - and to adhere to the County's COVID-19 hiring freeze (which does allow the Sheriff's Department to hire sworn officers).

"No county department can be permitted to rack up massive deficits year after year," said Kuehl. "It's fiscally irresponsible and unfair to taxpayers, since the money comes from the budgets of other essential departments."

"We are looking to save every penny we can because it's an all hands on deck moment," Villanueva said Monday.

The county has hired an outside firm to audit the Sheriff's Department's books.