Pierce County Council cuts jail budget, laying off 16 corrections deputies

Staff writerSeptember 24, 2013 

The Pierce County Council approved a $3 million budget cut Tuesday, laying off 16 corrections deputies despite objections from jail workers.

Council members adopted amendments they hope will reduce the layoffs, including funding a pot of $60,000 in retirement incentives that could be parceled out to as many as five deputies over 65 if they choose to leave.

Sheriff’s Department Chief Rob Masko said the incentives could save a few jobs.

The council also asked Sheriff Paul Pastor to consider alternatives suggested by deputies such as job-sharing, part-time work and furloughs.

For two weeks, deputies asked the council to save their jobs. But council members said Tuesday they had no realistic option but to cut to help plug a $5 million shortfall in the jail’s budget.

The council voted 6-1 to approve County Executive Pat McCarthy’s supplemental budget for this year which called for the $3 million cut. Her budget filled the rest of the gap with $2 million from reserves and increased sales tax revenue.

Council member Jim McCune, R-Graham, cast the lone “no” vote. McCune said he saw no alternative to the jail budget cut. But he said he was voting “no” because he opposed another part of McCarthy’s budget: an intrafund loan of up to $1 million to design a proposed $67 million county administration building.

McCune said he wasn’t comfortable with the loan, especially when the council is cutting the jail’s budget. He tried to remove the $1 million loan from the budget but no other council members supported his amendment.

The other major move made by McCarthy’s supplemental budget was to increase spending for the new Parkland precinct for the Sheriff’s Department from $2.1 million to $3.1 million.

Corrections deputy Erik Neils, who is slated to lose his job, described the layoffs to the council as “destroying 16 people’s lives.”

Jail deputy Bruce Parks said Tuesday night he’s hopeful the council’s support for options will save jobs but he’s not sure how many.

“We obviously made a difference,” said Parks, secretary of the Corrections Deputies Guild. “We’re hopeful the sheriff will be able to work with us to implement some of the alternatives.”

The $5 million jail budget shortfall resulted from Tacoma and Lakewood sending their misdemeanor bookings to jails that charge lower rates.

The county jail incurs higher costs than smaller jails because it must accept felons who require higher levels of security and treatment, including inmates with mental illnesses. In effect, low-level inmates subsidize high-level ones.

Council members said they would work to find a long-term solution for next year – possibly by setting up a task force – to resolve the jail’s funding problems.

“I wish I had an answer to fix this,” said council member Dan Roach, R-Bonney Lake. “I don’t in the short-term.”

Council member Stan Flemming, R-Gig Harbor, said the county needs to figure out how to be more competitive in the jail business.

“This is not the permanent fix,” Flemming said. “It’s a temporary fix.”

Pastor thanked the council for making changes “that stepped up to try to help some of our people who may be losing their jobs.”

He also responded to concerns about jail safety.

“None of us remove the risk totally,” Pastor said. “But we should do everything we can to reduce the risk.”

The layoffs take effect Oct. 2. Two days earlier, three sergeants and one lieutenant will be demoted because their positions will no longer be needed.

In addition to the layoffs, nine vacant corrections deputy positions and one vacant sergeant slot will be eliminated.

On Sept. 17, in response to deputies pleading with the council to look at alternatives, the elected leaders postponed a decision for one week so the county could explore early retirements, part-time positions and furloughs.

McCarthy also presented her 2014 budget Tuesday, which would add another $2 million from increased property and sales tax dollars to offset the jail’s shortfall for next year.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

steve.maynard@thenewstribune.com

@TNTstevemaynard

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