A $10 million budget shortfall in Pinal County will not have a significant impact on the sheriff’s office this year, and residents shouldn’t worry about a lapse in law enforcement, Sheriff Chris Vasquez says.
“We were ready for it,” he said. “It’s something that’s going to be manageable, and we’ll be OK for at least this budget year.”
But the office is bracing for harder times.
And the belt-tightening is expected to have a much greater impact in the coming years as the department may have to handle Pinal’s explosive growth without sufficient funding.
“We are the No. 1 fastest-growing county in the U.S., and we still haven’t fully caught up,” Vasquez said.
The budget shortfall comes after years of steady funding due to growth.
However, several factors have contributed to the downturn, and Pinal joins many levels of government across the Valley dealing with budget deficits.
Several other law enforcement agencies are also feeling a crunch. Mesa police recently announced the department will have to cut its budget by $7.2 million.
Pinal County Manager Terry Doolittle said reduced revenue from home construction and slow retail development are to blame.
But county officials believe a major portion of this year’s shortfall can be made up by leaving some open county positions vacant. Officials estimate that will lead to nearly $7 million in savings.
The sheriff’s office will leave its unfilled secretary and aide jobs open.
However, Vasquez said his department will continue to fill critical positions directly related to public safety, such as deputies, detention officers and dispatchers.
But the sheriff’s office is worried that a budget crisis will restrict the number of new positions it’s allowed to add in the coming years.
“Even though we’re near full staff now,” Vasquez said, “I still need more deputies to continue meeting the calls of service at an adequate level.”
During the past two years, the sheriff’s office has added more than 60 positions. That staffing has been used to increase neighborhood police presence, visibility and being proactive in fighting crime.
The department has also made full use of a healthy budget by upgrading its technology, equipment and communications.
However, Doolittle has now asked all county departments to reduce spending by 2 percent.
The sheriff’s office, with a budget of more than $20 million, has slashed line items across the department to make up the difference.
“For now, we will just have to maintain,” Vasquez said. “The sheriff’s office must try and hold on to the status quo during the budget crisis.”