Mason County Sheriff's Office faces layoffs in wake of county-wide budget cuts

Mason County Sheriff's Office (Photo: KOMO News)

SHELTON, Wash. -- Mason County Sheriff Casey Salisbury and his command staff are scrambling to figure out who they need to lay off in the wake of immediate budget cuts approved by the county commissioners.

“I am deeply concerned for this county and the people who live here,” Sheriff Salisbury said.

The Sheriff and his command staff have spent many hours crunching numbers and going through their options since they learned of the impending $898,000 cut last month.

Mason County has a budget crisis, Director of Support Services Frank Pinter says.

“It’s a serious issue,” Pinter said. “A very serious issue.”

County expenditures are growing at around 3.5% per year, but revenues are only growing about 1.5% per year, and as a result, the county cannot keep up with costs. Their reserve balance, which acts somewhat as a rainy day fund, has been dramatically reduced.

Commissioner Terri Drexler says an increased property tax is one possible long term solution, but it would have to be approved by Mason County voters. Washington State law restricts the amount of property tax revenue a county can collect.

In March, Pinter says Mason County was barely able to pay its bills, and without a dramatic budget cut or adjustment he fears they would face the same problem in 2018.

Tuesday, the Mason County Commission approved an immediate $1.8 million budget cut for 2017; about $898,000 will come out of the Sheriff’s Office.

In the short term, Sheriff Salisbury and his command staff plan to lay off 4-6 deputies on top of jail and support staff.

“There are certain things we are just not going be able to go to anymore,” Sheriff Salisbury said. “The bottom line is if you don’t have enough law enforcement to go out into the community to control the crime, the crime rate is going to go up.”

But Commissioner Drexler says no Mason County department is exempt from these cuts, and other offices shoulder the same burden as the Sheriff’s Office, noting that their budget reduction is the largest because they make up about 40% of the budget.

Commissioner Drexler says the Commission has actually almost doubled the Sheriff’s budget over the past four years and added around eight deputies in the past three years.

“That was clearly not sustainable,” she said, adding that these cuts will “[bring] back the level of service down to prior to those increases.”

But Sheriff Salisbury says they still lack the resources other counties have.

“We have never been ahead of the game to take cuts to go back, because we have always played second fiddle all along in the area of criminal justice,” he said.

Either way, Pinter says Mason County is facing more cuts. All departments have been asked to cut 17.5% from their 2018 budget (compared to the Jan 2017 budget).

Sheriff Salisbury expects his layoffs are far from done.

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