Stanton’s City Council this week directed their city manager to press the Orange County Sheriff's Department for more than $1 million in cuts to the city's service contract in an effort to save the city from fiscal insolvency.
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has so far resisted any steep reductions in the department's service contract with the city, with sheriff's officials arguing that removing patrol officers would be a serious public safety risk.
“We're up against the wall,” City Councilman Brian Donahue said in a plea to sheriff's officials to be more flexible with the city’s service contract. “We need help.”
For several years, the small North County city is mired in a financial crisis that hasn't let up. As tax revenues have steadily declined, city leaders say they've cut nonessential services to the bone. The 19 employees left at City Hall are wearing many hats. City Manager Carol Jacobs is also the city clerk, finance director and head of the Human Resources Department.
Now with nothing left to cut and a $2.2-million deficit going into next fiscal year, city officials are taking aim at the cost that consumes nearly 80 percent of the budget: public safety.
In addition to a plan to eliminate the city's only fire truck company, which Jacobs said would shave $695,000 off the deficit, the city is proposing $1.1 million in cuts to its contract with the Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff’s officials are fighting further cuts, instead offering to cut three positions for a total savings of $537,653, Jacobs said. The positions include an investigator, an administrative deputy and the only motor deputy issuing traffic tickets in the city.
Sheriff's officials argue there should be at least 20 patrol officer to adequately protect the city's 39,000 residents. The city now has 22 deputies, with two assigned to specific problems such as gangs and prostitution, a Sheriff's Department report states.
There now are fewer of those crimes, once rampant in the city, the Los Angeles Times reported.
But the city's crime rate in other categories is rising, according to a Sheriff's Department report, There have been increases in theft and robberies, and “any reduction of patrol positions will seriously hinder our ability to address the rising crime in our city,” the report asserts.
Yet city leaders say they have no choice. Their budget is forcing tough decisions: Either slash police and fire services or go bankrupt.
“The reality is, is there's nothing left to cut,” said Councilman Dave Shawver. “We have no more money.”
Stanton still has $10 million in reserves, which at the current deficit could keep the city afloat for another five years, according to Jacobs. But Shawver says there's no way to predict the future in light of rising public safety costs and the state's penchant for balancing its budget through local revenue sources.
City leaders declared that they would seek contracts with neighboring cities for police services should the Sheriff's Department not agree to the cuts.
“I refuse, after being on council 25 years and living here 44 years, to give up,” Shawver said. “We are gonna make it.”