County cuts could impact public safety

March 3, 2009 7:42:55 PM PST
The cuts just keep on coming in Contra Costa County. On Tuesday night supervisors began the difficult process of trimming another $56 million from the budget, but critics say, this time the cuts could seriously jeopardize public health and safety.

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"This is one of the biggest crimes you and this board could ever commit," said June Shore.

Shore lost her husband, James, to a drunk driver. Tuesday, she and her two sons made an emotional plea to Contra Costa Supervisors to spare the jobs of dozens of deputy district attorneys.

"It's very scary to me knowing that people will not be prosecuted for the little things. Little things, misdemeanors, like guns possession, drug possession and DUI," said Colby Shore, a DUI victim's son.

But supervisors say there are no easy choices.

"We can't spend what we don't have in revenue. And our revenue is depleted significantly. We're looking at about $160 million in revenue losses in this budget year alone," said Mary Nejedly Piepho, a Contra Costa Supervisor.

To save $4 million, District Attorney Robert Kochly says he has to but to lay off 33 of his 91 attorneys.

"I have to start laying off the most junior and the least costly attorneys first. And so it ends up being a lot more of them that have to be laid off, to get to this target number," said Kochly.

"Without 33 attorneys, you're losing all of the misdemeanors, but you're losing juvenile, you're losing quality prosecution at every level," said Kate Wharton, a Deputy District Attorney.

The sheriff must trim his ranks too, by up to 75 deputies -- a 10-percent cut.

"I think criminals will tell their friends to come to Contra Costa County because they will not be held responsible for anything they do here," said Devon Bell, a Deputy District Attorney.

"It's not something I ever wanted to do in my entire 34 years with the county," said Health Director William Walker.

To save $6 million, Walker proposed eliminating preventative care for illegal immigrants, over age 19.

Those who treat such patients now, think they'll just end up in local emergency rooms.

"And the society would end up paying for that kind of healthcare, which is way more expensive than the preventative medicine," said Chika Akara M.D., form the La Clinica Monument.

A public hearing on the proposed budget reductions is set for March 17th.

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