Our View: Budget dilemma, public safety and security
Just from initial reporting and first-round analysis, it seems that Yuba County officials have quite a challenge to meet in the second half of their fiscal year. A mid-fiscal year report estimates a county General Fund deficit of $2.8 million.
Taxpayers are going to be wary, wondering if some wishbook budgeting was being done last year and how so much additional expense could be accrued unexpectedly. According to a report last week by Appeal-Democrat reporter Ben van der Meer, anticipated drops in revenue make for a small slice of the deficit pie; rather, increases on the expense side make the most difference.
We need to see more reporting on the matter, but it seems costs piled up mostly from health care benefits, pension increases and cost-of-living salary adjustments. It looks from here like cuts might be unavoidable. And where to cut? It will likely come down to salaries.
But which salaries? The hard part for supervisors and administrators isn't cutting expenses, but deciding where and how to cut expenses. Short-term decisions on budgeting can have long-term effects on a community's economic health.
Think twice aboutpublic safety cuts
For instance (in reference to the above), think hard about cutting public safety.
In a "state of things" story last week about Yuba County's justice system, it was apparent that the number one issue is money and that less public safety money impacts the community.
We appreciated Marysville Police Chief Wally Fullerton's blunt assessment: Funding is down, the number of officers is down, and crime is up. And, he said, "We have 180,000 cars coming through here every day and not one person assigned to a traffic unit."
There were a couple things that stuck out in Appeal-Democrat reporter Rob Parsons' package:
• It doesn't seem like the sources for the package were a bunch of whiners. They were pretty much just setting out the numbers, reciting the cuts and predicting the effects. All the sources were forthcoming, as far as we could tell — heads of the Wheatland Police, sheriff's office, district attorney and probation departments.
• For the most part, they all spoke separately about their own departments. We're left wondering if there is an overarching view; if big-picture public safety is being looked after. Sheriff Steve Durfor did cite strong collaboration with other departments for helping keep costs down while dealing with more work.
We have a lot to be proud of and thankful for here in the Yuba-Sutter area. But the practical course is to be frank about our challenges. Crime is one of them, and it's not good for business. We need to tread carefully as we try to economize in the public safety arena. Are we saving pennies and losing dollars in damages and lost opportunities?
Focus on security and health
The prospects are dismal that even members of the small Appeal-Democrat editorial board will come to agreement anytime soon on gun safety laws (but we're all still getting along).
One thing that we all wonder, is whether the great national hubbub over gun and ammunition regulations isn't just diverting attention from the core issues following the Newtown, Conn., slayings. While we once again polarize ourselves over rules and Second Amendment rights, we crowd out meaningful discussion on security for schools and public places; and we barely pay lip service to the state of our mental health care system.
We're hoping that on a local level, at least, officials don't let themselves become distracted to the extent that they overlook thoughtful analysis of how the entrances to our buildings are secured, what sorts of meaningful response procedures are in place, or how we might begin to detect, early on, the sorts of mental health conditions that would develop and spawn terrible events.