Sonoma County considers cutting 500 jobs

Fixing Sonoma County's budget woes could cost hundreds of county employees their jobs this year and cut more deeply into a wide array of government services, especially public safety programs.

Community policing and gang prevention efforts, correctional facilities for youth offenders and required legal representation for some criminal defendants are all on the line, officials said.

The job and program cuts, which could affect up to 13 percent of the county workforce, are potential outcomes of a preliminary budget proposal that would slash county spending at all departments by 25 percent.

Of about 500 potential job cuts, 300 could come from departments supported mainly by county funding, including primarily public safety, while the remainder would come from health and human services, transportation and public works and other departments, which are supported largely by state and federal dollars.

The county's overall budget exceeds $1 billion, with about $377 million of that classified as county generated and controlled dollars.

Unlike cuts in recent years, most of the positions at risk are currently filled, officials said.

Sheriff Steve Freitas' 640-member office could bear the largest of the cuts, losing up to 100 jobs, including sworn personnel. He called the impact of the plan "dramatic," saying it would take his office "back to basic patrol functions."

Freitas and other county leaders cautioned that the proposal was a starting point in the budget planning process, which begins today at the Board of Supervisors meeting and will stretch through June, when supervisors are set to approve a budget for the fiscal year beginning in July.

Still, any final proposal along the preliminary lines would significantly reduce staffing and services in the criminal justice system, including the jails, courts and probation, law enforcement leaders said.

"We wouldn't be able to handle the (current) caseload," said John Abrahams, the public defender, whose 50-member office would lose up to a third, or 11, of its attorneys. "This is the beginning of an ongoing discussion."

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