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County to close14-bed juvenile jail pod

2010 budget calls for 26 lay-offs

YAKIMA - They may not be Class A felonies, but juveniles doing graffiti, eluding police and first time car thieves have serious impacts on the victims.

Starting next year, though, it will take Yakima County longer to process juveniles found guilty of these crimes.

That's because Yakima County is closing a 14-bed pod in its juvenile detention center.

The move is part of a $51.9 million general fund budget for 2010 approved yesterday, Monday, by county commissioners. That represents 3 percent less than the county spent in 2009.

In all, Yakima County will cut 26 jobs and leave 10 job vacancies unfilled to trim a nearly $3 million shortfall.

Most of those cuts will come in the areas of law and justice, since it accounts for 80 percent of the county's budget in 2010.

On the Yakima County chopping block are 11.5 positions in the county's court system and eight jobs in the Sheriff's office.

Harold Delia is the county's court administrator, and he says the juvenile detention pod closing next year represents 14 beds that had been available for those guilty of graffiti, eluding police and first time car thieves.

That will leave 42 beds remaining in the juvenile detention center.

Next year, he said, juveniles guilty of those crimes will be arrested but released back to their parents instead of going to juvenile detention.

Delia noted that the juveniles will still appear in court and if guilty will serve time in detention, but time behind bars will be parsed out over a period of time.

As an example, he noted that instead of spending 30 consecutive days in the detention center, a juvenile as space allows may serve a week here or there, be released, then return until the 30 days are served.

Reduced court staff also means delays in court cases and a heavier case load for prosecutors and defense public attorneys, says Delia.

"Prosecutors will have to be more discriminating in the cases they pursue," said Delia. He added a growing backlog is anticipated in district court as a court manager position will be cut.

Also, the county's large Hispanic population will be without a court office position that provided phone communication in Spanish.

While cuts are deepest in the areas of law and justice, the county's budget director, Craig Warner, says all departments felt some impact.

The public will feel it too, he said, in longer waiting lines at the auditor and assessor's offices.

"We have over the years looked at cutting services we no longer need to provide," Warner said. "Now it's really about the service level. If you had to wait in line to get something recorded in the auditor's office, the line may be longer because there may be one less person in that department."

Budget struggles aren't new for Yakima County. It's just that this year there are no reserves to dip into. Commissioners last year had to take $1.1 million out of reserves to balance the 2009 budget.

Those reserves aren't available this year as the county has drawn a hard line at not lowering reserves below 11 percent of the general fund budget.

That's because the county's revenue relies heavily on property taxes received twice a year, while expenses occur month-to-month.

The 26 lay-offs are less than half of the up to 60 cuts commissioners envisioned in a worst case scenario.

Warner says some jobs were saved when updated budget numbers showed more income than expected from fines and fees. He said that was helped by new state laws that increased the amount that can be levied for fines and fees.

The county also received $170,000 in grants to retain some of the court attorney positions.

Despite the job cuts and extra money, though, Warner said the county's departments had to dip into their respective contingency funds. In total, it represents $250,000 the departments will have to put back into contingency funds when planning the 2011 budget.

The problem of increasing expenses and decreasing revenues has hit the county and all municipalities. Warner says the county is considering some long term changes to save funds.

One proposal on the drawing board is dropping to a four-day work week.

"That's one of those options on the table we're definitely going to look at," Warner said.

As the county watches its bottom line, Delia says things could have been much worse.

He said the county is lucky voters this month renewed the three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax that benefits law and justice efforts.

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