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Brace yourself

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When public safety budgets take an early hit you know it’s going to be a bad year.

“This is the first time in recent history we’ve had to make reductions to public safety due to mid-year state reductions,” County Principal Administrative Analyst Dan Buckshi said.

On Jan. 19, SLO County supervisors approved an early round of budget reductions in response to dwindling state revenues for public safety. It was particularly telling of the state’s catastrophic finances because in years past state reductions tend to fall on the shoulders of social services and other programs not directly related to immediate public safety.

Before state legislators even begin their official budget negotiations for the 2010-11 fiscal year, state revenues for local public safety programs (derived from the Proposition 172 half-cent sales tax and a recent increase in the state Vehicle License Fee) are expected to fall short by about $3.2 to $4.1 million in SLO County, according to a county staff report.

Translated locally, public safety programs—Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney Office, Probation, and County Fire—will lose between $1.9 and $2.3 million in Proposition 172 revenue alone. The VLF reductions will hack away another estimated $748,000 to $1.28 million.

Compounding the revenue shortfalls, the county Prevailing Wage Ordinance continues to drive salaries upward. County officials anticipate $900,000 in additional expense after the next round of labor negotiations.

So far the county budget is about $24 million in the red. Last fiscal year, officials had to trim a $30 million deficit through a combination of layoffs, services cuts, and hiring freezes. Bottom line: This year will be much worse.

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