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PCSD: Can the new sheriff wipe out $6 Miilion debt without impacting safety?

Posted at 12:28 AM, Feb 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-07 12:00:38-05
The Pima County Sheriff's Department is nearly $6 million in debt -- a result of serious overspending. That's according to the new Sheriff Mark Napier, who's been on the job about a month. He told KGUN9 investigative reporter Valerie Cavazos that he's been saddled with difficult decisions as he tries to quickly reduce the debt without impacting citizen safety.
 
Can it be done?
 
A surprising defeat in the November election. Then sheriff, Chris Nanos, lost to Mark Napier, who had no idea just how deep is the financial rabbit hole. "It's a tremendous challenge to walk into a debt," said Sheriff Napier.
 
Nearly 6 million dollars in the red, according to Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry. He sent a memo in December that the sheriff's department is forecasted to exceed spending more than $4.5 million while at the same time facing a revenue shortfall of more than $1.1 million.
 
Overtime -- $1.5 million.
Holiday Pay -- $.5 million 
And On-call pay -- $.5 million and one of the first areas to be immediately cut. "I can't think of many decision in my 30 plus years in this job that has caused me to lose more sleep than this one," said Napier.
 
A poison pill, he called it, left by the prior administration who failed to do anything about it. 
 
Cavazos: What exactly was being done? 
Napier: On call was given to people who were not on call by policy. In fact, a hundred people who were getting on call were never called out." 
Cavazos: From what I understand it could affect someone's pay 10 - 12%. That's pretty significant for some of the deputies. 
Napier: It is. 
Cavazos: Is that why you say it was a tough decision? 
Napier: It kept me up at night. I was struggling to support my family and for me to have this retracted from me at that point in my life would be a major thing. And I hate it. I do.
 
Does cutting On-Call pay impact public safety? Napier says no because the deputies were never on the job. Napier worried the pay cut could further damage morale -- already at an all-time low -- he said. "They're a broken group. They really are. I didn't realize how broken until I got in here and I'm really surprised by that. That these people are really hurt. They don't trust," he said.
 
Sgt. Ed Curtin works in the Rincon District that covers an area about the size of Rhode Island. He explains deputies have felt they could no longer be proactive in policing neighborhoods -- looking for signs of trouble and connecting with the community -- because deputies feared they couldn't make a single mistake. "There's a lot of second guessing going on. There's a difference between a mistake and misconduct. If a deputy makes a mistake he shouldn't get in trouble for that," said Curtin.
 
Napier said, "I think there was some sentiment before of some trepidation about retaliation -- what if I make a mistake. I expect people to be out there being pro-active. There's nothing in the budget that's preventing them from doing that."
 
Curtin said, "Now I think it's getting better. We have an administration that backs us." 
 
An administration that's smaller now, especially at the executive level, which has been reset to trim the fat. "I was struck by the fact we were really top heavy and it was unsustainable."
 
Napier eliminated the Chief of Staff and Chief Deputy positions once held by Brad Gagnepain, who committed suicide. and Chris Radtke, who was recently indicted on federal money laundering charges. Records show their salaries alone totaled $275,000.
 
Napier also cut 1 Captain and 2 Lieutenant positions saving over $600,000 a year. And he condensed three deputy bureaus into two. The Corrections bureau remains.
 

The total administration and on-call cuts amount to nearly 1-and-a-half million dollars for the second half of the fiscal year. "I'm not going to get to the full $6 million. Not in 6 months. I'd be very happy if we got to 2/3 or a little better than half of that. Then I think we've done very well, especially if we don't impact where services are delivered in the community."

In a press release issued Monday,  "Through a variety of reductions to on-call pay and executive staffing positions, as well as attrition, the Sheriff has cut that deficit by over $2.5 million. That is an approximate 43% reduction in the budget deficit during the first month in office."

 
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