Kern County supervisors said Tuesday they were inclined to give Sheriff Donny Youngblood $1.3 million to launch a training academy designed to hatch 53 new sheriff’s deputies over the next 16 months.
But, motivated by the county’s budget troubles, supervisors pushed for ways to limit how much the Sheriff’s Office actually spends and to require the new deputies to stay with Kern County after graduation.
Technically the money must be allocated through the county budget process when it concludes with a final budget adoption next Tuesday.
But supervisors said they were willing to give Youngblood the money because he told them the new deputies will only be replacing ones who will be leaving.
“Sixteen months from today we’ll be at least where we are today — maybe worse,” Youngblood said.
Youngblood said the $1.3 million will be a one-time expenditure, for recruitment, hiring and training. Substations are already short-staffed in nearly every corner of Kern County, from Delano to Taft and Bakersfield to Rosamond and Ridgecrest, he said.
WIthout the new deputies, Youngblood said, his ability to protect the public would be devastated.
Even with the money, he said, he’s likely to have fewer sworn deputies at the end of the academy than he does now. But at least the gulf will be more manageable.
“We’re going to be worse off. But if we don’t do it, it will be catastrophic,” Youngblood told supervisors.
Jill Curtis of Frazier Park urged supervisors to support the sheriff.
“My concern is that we have never seen an increase in crime like we have in the last two years,” she said. “If we don’t have this coverage, we’re going to see a vigilante type of outcry.”
She said she lost a family member to murder in December and drug addicts fuel their habit with property crimes in her community.
“It’s preposterous to think that in our world today we cannot rely on our law enforcement,” Curtis said.
Supervisors supported Youngblood’s request, but not without a couple requests of their own. And they waited to give formal approval of the money until they hear back on those requests.
Supervisor Zack Scrivner recommended holding the $1.3 million in a separate county account and releasing it to the sheriff as needed.
Youngblood said about 25 percent of academy attendees fail to finish the training academy. Scrivner said in that case, the county might not need to spend all of the $1.3 million.
Supervisor Mike Maggard asked Youngblood if he could have all new deputies sign a contract requiring them to work in Kern County for several years after they finish their training.
“We’ve given them an entry to a career and I think they have an obligation to the taxpayers,” Maggard said.
Youngblood said that issue is being explored but has been a topic of many lawsuits.
Deputies have to stay for one year until they get their basic certificate, he said, but they can start looking for other work before they have that certificate.
County Counsel Theresa Goldner said some courts have ruled that to hire trainees as deputies — as the Kern County Sheriff’s Office does — it is paying them for their work and there is no obligation for the employees to pay the government back.
She said she would explore the idea of a “retention” contract and bring the board a recommendation next Tuesday when supervisors meet to approve the county’s final 2016-17 budget.
But Youngblood worried such a contract would make it even harder to attract deputy candidates.
Other communities can offer new deputies more than he can, Youngblood said. For example, he said, departments in Southern California pay double what Kern County does for an entry-level deputy sheriff.
Assistant County Administrative Officer Nancy Lawson said the money to fund the academy will come from county reserves, which are held for one-time needs.
But Youngblood said that with the job attrition he’s facing, he will likely come back to the Board of Supervisors this time next year asking for money to start another academy.
The department has just been able to keep its nose above water, he said, and without the ability to hire more deputies it will sink.