BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The 2007 financial crisis still impacts the Kern County Sheriff's Office today. KCSO says if the county board of supervisors does not act soon, Kern County is headed for a public safety crisis.
In two decades the county has grown by over 235,000 thousand people yet the department has lost 113 uniformed deputies due to 44.5 million dollar structural deficit the county has faced due to the recession.
"We had a lot of financial challenges that have lead to some retention and recruitment problems," said Kern County 2nd District Supervisor, Zack Scrivner. "The budget deficit we've seen over the last 4 years or so of 44.5-million-dollar structural deficit has definitely put us in a difficult situation when it comes to giving raises not just for our sheriff deputies but for all of our employees."
Scrivner says the both the public and employees need to understand that county pension costs factor into providing raises for KCSO. He say pensions have gone up by 70 percent in the last decade, and costs associated went from 50 million dollars to 300 million dollars today.
"Twice I tried it with a tax. The first time I presented it to the board and I outlined where we were headed and the crisis we were headed towards down the road," said Kern County Sheriff, Donny Youngblood. "The second time around I took it to the board and I said we are now where I said we would be and we need this tax on the ballot and we need the public to support this because we're in a crisis." The one percent sales tax failed to pass, with 64 percent of voters opposing Measure I on the 2018 ballot. *
Since 2007, KCSO has cut 50 operational positions impacting Metro Patrol as well as outlying county area such as Tehachapi and Boron. They have also cut 75 detention deputies due to layoffs in 2009.
"We've actually lost lieutenants and commanders to other agencies and they leave, and they get a raise," said Kern Law Enforcement Association President, Richard Anderson.
Along with staff cut backs, Kern County's oldest law enforcement agency has struggled to keep up with pay. They says their new deputies start at $25.67 and hour where as new Bakersfield Police officers make around $30 dollars an hour.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Youngblood annouced he is eliminating the departments its gang unit due to a lack of resources and recruits. Youngblood points to KCSO being one of the lowest paid law enforcement departments in the state.
“Over the last several years we have gotten smaller and smaller,” said Youngblood. “We are unable to recruit people; they are leaving the service and for other agencies. People are retiring and we are having to fill those gaps.”
*This article originally stated that the Measure N sales tax increase was voted down by 53 percent. Measure N was a proposed one percent tax increase for the City of Bakersfield. The measure passed by 97 votes in November. Measure I was a proposed one percent increase for unincorporated Kern County. That measure did not pass.