Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor is lobbying to retain 14 positions that are on the chopping block as the County Council grapples with how to cut spending and balance its 2013 budget.
He might just get his way sort of.
Pastor will make his case to the full council Thursday morning to let him keep the positions, which have opened up over the past year and currently are unfilled. Some council members have expressed concern about the number of vacancies the department is carrying.
As Pastor tells it, its business as usual.
He said an agency as big as his with 261 deputies and detectives is bound to have vacant positions. He estimates there are 10 to 20 openings at any given time because people leave, retire and rise through the ranks.
Of the 14 positions at issue, four were added this year, two have been filled and a third is slated to be filled next month. The others opened up throughout the year due to attrition in the ranks.
Pastor said the vacancies have persisted because, in part, it takes 10 months to hire and train new deputies. He also pointed out the difficulty in finding qualified candidates, something other local departments also have struggled with in recent months.
There are numbers to back up the latter explanation, department officials say. According to their statistics:
• Fewer people have applied to work for the Sheriffs Department than in previous years (646 this year compared to 1,327 last year).
• Most arent considered qualified to be kept on the register (79 this year, 165 last year).
Still, County Council members hope the sheriff will bring a clearer explanation for the vacancies when he meets with them today to make his case to keep staffing at its current level.
It hasnt been as clear as wed like it to be, Council Chairwoman Joyce McDonald said.
Pastor is ready to make his pitch to the council. The gist will be: I realize youre in bad financial shape, so dont increase our staffing just leave it where it is.
If they cant do that, the sheriff said hell ask them to take as few positions as possible and work with him to create a multi-year hiring plan. The plan is intended to remove obstacles Pastor said the department has faced hiring people while facing possible cuts each year.
The department has escaped budget cuts for the last four years.
In 2012, the county provided the Sheriffs Department with about $113.3 million about $61.9 million for law enforcement and administration, and $51.5 million for corrections.
County Executive Pat McCarthy proposed last year to reduce law enforcement spending by 1 percent, but spending is on track to rise 1.3 percent in 2012. Next year, Pastor said, the department faces a 3 percent cut in law enforcement under McCarthys plan.
He argues that even though hes not had funds taken from his agency, hes lost dozens of employees over the last four years, due mostly to attrition. Two law enforcement officers also have been laid off. He provided The News Tribune with a chart indicating drops in staff members who tend to unincorporated parts of the county. It does not include staffing for contract cities.
The chart shows law enforcement positions dropping to 272 this year from 300 in 2008; a decrease in corrections staffing to 312 this year from 338 in 2008; and a decline in civilian employees to 104 this year from 117 in 2008. Those numbers drop further in 2013, taking into account proposed budget cuts.
Its much more complicated than, You didnt fill the positions you were given. Pastor said. We havent been sitting on our hands not hiring.
Pastor said the money budgeted for the now-vacant positions has mostly been spent on overtime for homicide investigations and to fill jobs for employees out on sick or military leave.
He said it would be irresponsible, both financially and to potential candidates, to hire for the positions when funds might force him to lay off employees after the budget is passed in November. Pastor said theres been talk of cuts since June.
What I could do is, if I had a magic wand, hire 14 people tomorrow, he said. But if I were to hire them tomorrow, Id be firing them in January if the cuts came off.
County Council members have stressed that public safety is a top priority and said theyre considering letting Pastor keep some vacancies while they monitor whether they get filled in the upcoming year.
Right now we are working at putting back four to five positions, depending on the numbers we can come up with for dollars, McDonald said. Hopefully, well see the sheriff is able to fill all of his positions.
Undersheriff Eileen Bisson has put together a plan to cope with the proposed cuts. She said she will need to revamp the plan again if the department gets to keep some vacant positions.
If all 14 positions are taken away, the plan is to return three deputies to patrol duties two deputies who now work on the gang unit and a court security deputy at Remann Hall, the juvenile justice center. A court security sergeant would be demoted and a forensic investigator laid off.
Three of the positions that could be eliminated were created this year the two were filled by the gang deputies and one was never filled.
The five-member community support team, which handles quality-of-life issues such as panhandlers and homeless camps, would disband and move back to patrol.
Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653