Sheriff’s Department Braces for Virginia Budget Cuts

police_light_psVirginia’s ongoing financial crisis has Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper concerned. Under former Governor Tim Kaine’s proposed 2010 – 2012 budget Roper’s office will face a funding reduction of nearly 22%. As currently written the budget curtails the Clarke County Sheriff Department’s operations to the constitutional minimum; court security, process serving and prisoner handling. “I’m not the kind of person who likes to “call wolf”, Roper said in his office, “but such drastic budget reductions may reduce our ability to keep the citizens of Clarke safe.”

Governor Kaine introduced his 2010-2012 budget on December 18th, just 18 days before leaving office, leaving incoming Governor Bob McDonnell to face a potential $4.2 billion budget shortfall due to Virginia’s ongoing financial crisis. Kaine’s budget includes $2.3 billion in cuts as well as replacement of the car tax. In a move that breaks with precedent, McDonnell has decided not to submit a revised two-year budget to the General Assembly. Instead, McDonnell’s office said that he will submit a series of budget amendments as well as inform lawmakers of his priorities.

Virginia receives its tax revenue from two sources: the general fund and non-general funds. About half of state revenues are “non-general funds”, funds earmarked by law for specific purposes. General fund revenues are derived from general taxes paid by citizens and businesses in Virginia. Since general fund revenue is not dedicated to any particular purpose it can be used for a variety of government programs. General Funds are the funds that the Governor and the General Assembly have the most discretion to spend. In FY 2009 total general fund revenues fell by 9.2 percent.

The current Kaine budget includes a 16% across-the-board cut aimed at Public Safety. The statewide cuts include postponing Virginia State Police trooper schools (saving money but making it more difficult to fill vacancies as current troopers retire or leave the service), cuts to local Commonwealth’s Attorney’s offices and reductions to Circuit Court Clerk offices. Local sheriff department cuts may require layoffs in order keep budgets in balance. For Sheriff Roper, the proposed cuts could mean the loss of nearly four positions from the Clarke County Sheriff Department staff.

“Every program supported by the Sheriff’s office will be subject to elimination” Roper said in a recent letter to Delegate Joe May. Roper characterized continuing the School Resource Officer program as well as crime prevention programs as “difficult to support” if the reduced budget levels are implemented.

The Clarke County Sheriff Department has already seen an increase in its share of local law enforcement duties over the past several years. Hiring cuts by the Virginia State Police have shifted additional traffic and accident calls to the Sheriff Department. Similarly, reorganization of the Virginia State Game Commission added “game calls” to Roper’s list of duties.

Kaine’s proposed budget reduces state funding ratios to one deputy per 2,000 citizens, down from the current level of one deputy per 1,500 citizens, a level below the September 11th terrorist strikes. Asked if personnel reduction could result in slower response time to accidents and emergency calls; “We’ll always do the best that we can with what we have” the sheriff said.

Governor McDonnell’s office may begin releasing its incremental budget changes as early as this week.