Two prominent Hennepin County officials are squaring off with each other in their final weeks in office.
Outgoing and longtime county Commissioner Peter McLaughlin will propose Wednesday that the board cut nearly $2 million from the Sheriff's Office's 2019 budget. He also had planned to slash nine new detention officer positions, but changed his mind Tuesday.
Sheriff Rich Stanek, who lost his election to David Hutchinson by 2,340 votes, questioned why a lame duck commissioner would offer up cuts that would take effect when he's out of office. The funding reduction would mostly affect jail staffing and a program that has successfully increased the office's diversity, he said.
"This is all politics and that's unfortunate," said Stanek. "He's trading in public safety for the county to fund a transportation project."
McLaughlin said none of the money from the budget cuts would go to transit projects.
If passed by the board, McLaughlin's proposal would eliminate $1 million for overtime and adjust the office's vacancy factor by $850,000. The factor is money saved when an employee leaves before a replacement is hired.
McLaughlin also wants to drop a water patrol deputy that would be assigned to the Mississippi River, a position he said doesn't rise to a top priority. The salary savings would be $78,402. Stanek said county administration promised his office the job and that marina owners have been asking for more patrols for years.
McLaughlin said he suggested cutting the nine detention deputies depending on the outcome of a recently released study of the county's jail population. The move would have saved $637,000, but the study included several long-term cost saving measures, he said.
Much of the overtime expenses comes from jail staffing when inmate populations run high. While the numbers have declined in recent months, the jail had record inmate levels last spring.
"The study found that the jail is now down to its functional capacity and we can keep those numbers down," said McLaughlin. "The new budget numbers reflects that we don't need funding for a full jail."
The number of jail beds available daily is 755, and Stanek said the jail staffs for 680 inmates. On Monday there were 735 inmates, so he had to force deputies to work overtime "because you just can't say the inn is closed."
The Sheriff's Office's budget for 2019 is expected to be around $114 million. With the nine new detention officers, the office will employ 807 people.
Hutchinson wants commissioners to hold off with any changes until next year "when I have a better idea of what's going on,"
"The overtime money needs to be there for things like the Final Four basketball tournament in April," he said. "I need money to do the things I promised in my campaign, and I need to have all the available resources to keep people safe."
Hutchinson said he's willing to work with the board on the budget but would also like some time to find where he could make cuts. One idea: Use only detention deputies and a few sworn deputies. Detention deputies aren't licensed peace officers and can't carry a weapon. Sworn deputies should be used for community engagement and lowering violent crime, he said.
The budget decreases would cost the Sheriff's Office 17 sworn deputies, said Stanek. They help patrol the county's 45 cities outside of Minneapolis, work in the jail and the crime lab and respond to emergencies and protests, he said.
"This is unfortunate because McLaughlin only represents one city in his district and that's Minneapolis," said Stanek. "I can't believe the board would capitulate to a lame-duck commissioner."
Stanek is also upset at the effect the cuts will have on his diversity efforts, especially the office's "Pathways" program. It hires a large number of diverse people as detention deputies, gives them flexible schedules for school and raising families and works to keep them as sworn deputies, he said. The new budget constraints would freeze the program for several years, he said.
"In my 12 years, diversity officewide had grown from 7 to 17 percent," he said. "I don't get upset when a diverse deputy goes to another law enforcement agency because it's good for everybody."
Hennepin County isn't alone with its budget cuts. Last week, the Minneapolis City Council took more than $1 million from the Police Department's budget next year for initiatives to reduce violence. Ramsey County is making minor increases to its Sheriff's Office's budget.
"This is nothing personal to the old or new sheriff," said Mark Thompson, assistant Hennepin County administrator for public safety. "If you have the opportunity to save money, you do it."