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San Luis Obispo County faces multi-million dollar budget deficit due to COVID-19

Posted at 9:18 PM, Jun 08, 2020

COVID-19 is creating a multi-million dollar deficit for San Luis Obispo County's annual budget and public safety could take the biggest hit.

On Monday, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors discussed the $32 million to $56 million deficit in the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget and the "tough" decisions they are faced with making.

According to county documents, about $2 million of that is proposed to be cut from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office.

Proposition 172, a half-cent sales tax collected by the state and allocated to counties, was passed in 1993 and makes up a big portion of funding specifically for public safety including law enforcement, district attorney and fire response, but officials are estimating about $2.4 million less revenue this year.

Nearly 100 recorded public comment messages were played at the meeting with the majority of them echoing opposition for cutting funds from the Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Ian Parkinson said he and his team plan to ensure public safety even as other sectors of the agency will be impacted.

“When we look at what we fundamentally do we respond to calls for service, we run a jail, we run a coroner's office, we run court security. All of those things are mandatory and we don’t have the luxury of just saying we are not going to do anymore,” said Sheriff Ian Parkinson.

Many said law enforcement is needed now more than ever as people are released on zero bail and as some crime rates like domestic violence and aggravated assault increase.

“Everything that is subject to cut are things that are programs and extras. When you talk about our Community Action Team, marijuana enforcement, school resource deputies, these are things none of us want to cut and certainly I don’t want to cut, but at the end of the day, if we have to cut, we cut,” said Sheriff Parkinson.

Sheriff Parkinson said he didn’t have much choice but to consider laying off about 11 deputy officers to meet the financial expectation.

While the meeting focused on the impact of the pandemic, protests surrounding George Floyd's death were also on people's minds.

“We are not calling for the disbanding anything or defunding anything. We want to reallocate some of the funds to things like social services, housing, mental health, those community centered solutions,” said Katie Grainger, an advocate with Race Matters SLO.

Race Matters SLO organized a peaceful march in downtown San Luis Obispo Monday afternoon demanding change and reallocation of funds from local law enforcement.

The county plans on continuing a hiring freeze and letting staff voluntarily take time off adding it could take at least three years to get the budget back on track.

Part of the estimated deficit depends on the state budget and whether coronavirus cases continue to remain low in the area.

County leaders remain concerned about increased spending as more people rely on health and economic services during the pandemic.

The Board of Supervisors meeting will continue Tuesday at 9 a.m. and will start with live public comment phone calls.

You can watch Monday’s recorded meeting here.

You can read the recommended 2020-2021 fiscal budget for San Luis Obispo County here.