Imagine being out of town and not knowing that your dog got loose on a Monday and lost its collar or tags, then coming back home on a Friday and going to look for it at the Tuolumne County Animal Control shelter to find out it was euthanized earlier that morning.
The county Board of Supervisors was told on Thursday that sort of nightmarish scenario could happen if the Animal Control Department’s budget is cut down to the minimum levels mandated by the state.
“This to me, as a human being, is completely and utterly unacceptable,” said Kelle Schroeder, county agricultural commissioner, sealer of weights and measures, and animal control director.
It was the second of back-to-back public meetings this week for officials in charge of the county’s various departments to give presentations to the board in public about the services they provide and what they are mandated by the state to do.
They are going through the informational exercise as part of a process to restructure the county government, which is in the midst of a budget crisis due to a projected $3.7 million deficit in the county’s General Fund.
The meeting on Thursday featured presentations from county departments concerned with public safety, including Animal Control, the Public Defender’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Probation, and District Attorney’s Office.
Schroeder presented the scenario to the board because state regulations and county ordinances only require stray animals to be impounded for up to three days, not including the day that it was impounded.
Animal Control would also only be required to keep pets with identification for up to five days.
The department currently keeps animals for an average of 10 days. A “vicious animal” may be put down in as little as three days, but an adoptable one may stay at the shelter for as long as a month while waiting for a rescue organization to take it.
“Other costs to the animals would be undue suffering due to having to wait for another agency to humanely euthanize them,” Schroeder said of the minimum mandated budget option. “Healthy, adoptable pets would be euthanized instead of going to animal rescue organizations.”
Schroeder said there would also be no consequences to people who are criminally cruel to animals because the department would no longer investigate or recommend cases to the District Attorney’s Office, due to a lack of staffing for that.
Animal Control operates with one department manager, one supervisor, three officers, one full-time employee who will become a registered veterinary technician in October, three full-time kennel attendants and three relief kennel attendants.
The department is mandated to operate the shelter, keep the kennels clean, and feed the animals. They manage the care for about 1,300 animals per year that come through the shelter and respond to 2,000 calls for service, Schroeder said.
There’s an average of 40 animals in the shelter at any given time, which typically goes up to about 70 during the summertime.
Schroeder’s recommended budget for the department would be $467,091, not including mandated costs, which is almost $100,000 less than the current budget approved in June. Only doing the minimum mandated tasks would cost the county $372,539.
The recommended budget would allow them to continue keeping animals for as long as they currently do, retain on-call officers who could respond to emergency calls, respond to injured wildlife calls and humanely euthanize them in a timely manner, and investigate all animal cruelty complaints.
“With this budget, the care of animals will not be diminished, which is the sole purpose of animal control,” Schroeder said.
An alternative budget of $452,894 in non-mandated costs would allow them to house stray animals for up to six days and 10 days for animals with identifications, as well as retain on-call officers.
Darlene Mathews, founder and president of the rescue organization Friends of the Animal Community in East Sonora, pleaded for the board to not make any cuts to the budget for Animal Control and actually increase the amount of money the department receives.
Mathews said that people have started to drop off animals outside of their shelter, which only has room for about 10 to 12 dogs at a time, since word spread that the board was looking at potential cuts to Animal Control that could reduce the amount of time before animals are euthanized.
No decisions about cuts have been made by the board at this point.
County Administrator Tracie Riggs said earlier this week that her goal is to present a balanced budget with her recommended cuts and get direction from the board at another public meeting on Tuesday.
The next to present on Thursday was the county’s new chief public defender, Scott Gross, whose office provides a service that is mandated by the United States Constitution.
Gross was hired in June and still in the process of re-organizing the office, so Riggs said she was not recommending changes to the previously approved budget. The recommended budget for the Public Defender’s Office is about $1 million, with a net county cost of $951,000.
In addition, the board voted to create a new Conflict Division in the Public Defender’s Office that will be staffed with attorneys who handle cases of defendants who can’t be represented by the office due to a conflict of interest.
The division’s recommended budget is $514,000, with a net cost to the county of $337,000.
Sheriff Bill Pooley also gave a presentation on Thursday regarding the budget for his office, which has the largest of any county department at $22 million in total expenses.
Pooley presented options to reduce his office’s budget in the current fiscal year by $401,779, which includes freezing four deputy positions through attrition, a vacant fiscal technician and clerk.
The cuts would also provide a savings of about $440,000 annually in future years, but would also stretch the office’s ability to conduct evacuations during fires and other emergencies.
They would also no longer patrol Pinecrest or Kennedy Meadows, have fewer resources to investigate property crimes, reduce the ability to do community outreach, and see an increase in response times and risk to officer safety.
Pooley said they were already falling behind in their ability to protect the public with the status quo.
“You have to look at our (average) emergency response time of 13 minutes,” he said. “Thirteen minutes is a lifetime when you’re in crisis, and it’s unacceptable.”
The delayed response is largely due to the number of deputies, which Pooley said is currently one less than the office had in 1997.
The office averaged less than four deputies on duty per 12 hour shift in the 2018-19 fiscal year, one less than it had in 2017-18, which Pooley said was due to vacant positions not being filled, injured deputies, and recruits who are still in training.
“Our vacancy factor has been so prevalent, the (county administrator) uses it to balance the budget,” Pooley said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to remedy that.”
There would be one sergeant and six deputies on duty at any given time in an ideal situation, according to Pooley, but the recommended budget will allow for only up to one sergeant and five deputies per 12-hour shift.
Pooley said they’ve already reduced the number of detectives from nine to five and stopped the practice of assigning all burglary investigations to detectives. They only assign a detective to investigate a burglary if there are “concrete leads.”
Out of the 267 reported burglaries in the last year, Pooley said they assigned 28 to detectives and solved 77 percent of them.
The office has also disbanded the Tuolumne Narcotic Team, which Pooley noted was involved with a number of high-profile cases that reduced the amount of illegal drugs and prescription opioids on the streets.
One of the cases Pooley mentioned was the shutting down of Rosalinda’s Gentlemen’s Club in Jamestown last year, which he referred to as a “den of drugs and prostitution.”
Pooley did not suggest any reductions to the jail’s budget, due to the opening of the new jail next year that will be larger and require more staffing.
The number of incidents at the current jail like fights and drugs found on inmates in 2018 was reportedly 1,092, up 42 percent in the past three years. Pooley attributed the increase to the types of inmates being housed at the jail since the state’s prison realignment, which increased the number of inmates in county jails who previously would have been sent to prison.
County Supervisor Karl Rodefer described the presentation by Pooley as “very sobering.”
Following a three-hour break, the board resumed the meeting at 1:30 p.m. for a presentation by District Attorney Laura Krieg.
The District Attorney’s Office is constitutionally mandated to prosecute all criminal offenses on behalf of the people and to uphold the rights of victims and defendants. It’s also mandated to perform a number of additional tasks, including as a legal advisor to the civil grand jury.
Krieg’s presentation largely focused on the workload placed on her staff of 16, which consists of seven prosecutors including herself, two investigators and seven support staffers.
Prior to 2008, the office had eight prosecutors, four investigators, and seven support staff.
The presentation showed the Amador County DA’s Office has 28 employees, despite having a smaller population than Tuolumne County. Lake and Tehama counties, which have slightly larger populations, have 27 employees each.
Krieg said the lack of staffing translates to a workload of nearly 600 cases per attorney each year. The office reviewed a total of 4,805 cases and filed 4,036 of them in 2018.
“That is huge, and unmatched in many district attorney’s offices across the state,” she said, adding that her office represented children in 730 dependency hearings last year as well.
The office has also acquired more than a $1 million in grants and generated hundreds of thousands in revenue under Krieg’s leadership.
Krieg said if the board decides to take away a vacant attorney position from her office, the revenue generating aspects of her office will be impacted.
Cassandra Jenecke introduced herself to the board as the longest serving deputy district attorney. She’s worked at the office for less than five years.
Jenecke said the office has had a complete turnover twice since she started working there, which she blamed on the hefty workload due to the lack of additional prosecutors.
“If you were to take an attorney position from us, you won’t keep stellar attorneys,” she said.
The county Probation Department was the last to present on Thursday and discussed how almost everything it does is mandated, such as giving recommendations to the court on sentencing, supervising adult and juvenile offenders, and the care and custody of juvenile wards.
As part of those duties, the department also oversees the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility that opened in April 2017.
Cutting the department’s budget back to mandated services only would mean the elimination of work release programs, non-mandatory court support services that generate revenue, and closing the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility.
The department previously sent juveniles sentenced to incarceration away to juvenile halls in other counties for about $500,000 per year, while operating its own facility costs about $1.3 million per year.
Less than half of the department’s expenses are covered by the county’s General Fund, and most of the discussion by the board and public focused on options for the juvenile hall.
Several people at the meeting spoke about the benefits of incarcerating local juveniles closer to home, including Tuolumne County Presiding Judge Donald Segerstrom, who oversees the local Juvenile Justice Commission.
Segerstrom talked about attending graduations for kids at the facility who otherwise would have never completed high school had it not been for the intervention.
Others also said the behavioral treatment and educational programs provided at the facility will benefit the county in the future by those juveniles being less likely to commit crimes as adults and become dependent on government services.
“If we stay the course on this, we’re going to be alot better off 20 years from now than we are today,” said Michael Arndt, superintendent of the facility.
County Supervisor Ryan Campbell inquired about the costs per child, which vary depending on how many children are in the facility at a given time.
The average daily population this year is 11, though the maximum capacity is 16. There are a total of 30 beds at the facility, but the county can’t afford the staffing required to fill them all.
Chief Probation Officer Linda Downey said the state determined the cost to house a juvenile was more than $500 per day.
Amador, Calaveras and Mariposa counties have contracts with the county to house kids for $100 per day, which was set to be competitive with other juvenile halls.
There have been a total of 22 bookings at the facility from the three outside counties in the last six months.
County Supervisor Anaiah Kirk said he understood the positive aspects of having the juvenile hall, but local taxpayers are subsidizing the costs of other counties’ youth.
“They’re coming here using our services and getting this great service, and yet they’re paying $100 a night while we’re flipping the bill for their kids,” he said.
Rodefer concluded the meeting on Thursday by saying he received an “unbelievable” amount of emails and voicemails from people concerned about various programs that were being discussed, which he felt reflected on the quality of county staff.
Donna Schiavo, of Sonora, said after attending both meetings on Wednesday and Thursday and felt it was a “bitter pill to swallow to see how hard everybody works with little resources.”
Schiavo told the board she believes the concept of shrinking government in Tuolumne County is not working anymore and urged them to find ways of raising revenue.
“We’ve shrunk ourselves so small we can’t offer our services that are necessary and will promote the health and welfare of our county,” she said. “People have got to learn to pay their fair share if they want to live in Tuolumne County and be part of this beautiful area.”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.