Merced County faces severe budget cuts or dip into savings

FRESNO, Calif.

This is the proposed budget presented to the Board of Supervisors this week. It calls for 23 vacant jobs to be eliminated and 8 people to be laid off. But the county's new CEO warns even more cuts will be needed.

Sheriff Mark Pazin is relieved he won't have to cut any deputies or correctional officers ... for now. But the proposed $461 million budget does call for eliminating 10 vacant public safety positions. And Pazin says his department has already downsized as much as possible over the past three fiscal years.

"They've asked us to cut the fat, and we have. Then we have to cut to the bone, and we have. I'm not gonna tolerate fiscal amputation where we dissect the essential services that keep Merced County safe," said Sheriff Pazin.

The budget also calls for using several savings accounts that had been set aside for building projects. Including about $5 million that was supposed to go toward expanding the John Latorraca Jail.

Sheriff Pazin said, "Am I concerned? Of course because we need to expand the jail. We've got more than our fair share of thugs, hooligans, and other cutthroats around here that need to be behind bars."

But Pazin admits the expansion had already hit a road block because the state did not approve the rest of the funding needed for the project. And he knows other departments are also being forced to sacrifice. That includes the district attorney's office, which is facing four lay-offs.

Larry Combs, who became Merced County's CEO in late 2009, says the board is concerned about spending too much of the savings account funds ... and changes to the state budget could create an even bigger deficit. So he expects more cuts before final budget hearings in August.

"Where else is there room? ... there is no room, that's the problem," said Combs.

Larry Combs says a big drop in local revenues is largely to blame for the county's budget trouble. He says one way residents can help is for those who do have jobs to spend money locally.

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