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Budget cuts create Sheriff's office vacancies

YAKIMA - Efforts to curb violent crime in Yakima County may be hindered in 2013 due to budget cuts.

That's according to Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin, who told the Daily Sun News three posts in his office will have to remain unfilled because of $521,000 in budget cuts for 2013.

One of those vacancies will be on the county's violent crime task force, dropping it down to seven members.

Irwin says the task force has been successful in targeting the "worst of the worse" violent criminals here. He says its partnership with federal, state and local agencies has led to a decline in violent crimes in Yakima County.

Now, Irwin notes, caseload investigations of violent crimes in unincorporated Yakima County will be divided between seven instead of eight officers. "It makes it just that much less effective," he said.

Also off the books in 2013 will be unfilled positions on a DEA drug task force and a detective.

By not filling a sixth detective position, Irwin said burglary, theft and other investigations will have to be divvied up among the remaining detectives.

"The net effect for the public is that it will be a lot harder to investigate cases," he said. Leaving the drug task force post unfilled, Irwin added, means that Yakima County will not participate in the DEA program.

The only good news in all this is that Irwin did not have to lay off any current employees in his department, but he says that could change if more budget cuts are mandated in the future.

"We've done about all of the saving we can do," Irwin says. "If we have another big cut it would affect the number of employees."

Speaking of employees, he says a $40,000 increase for 2013 in the amount of "three-tenths money" will ensure that a deputy stays on the road. The funds come from a three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax voters have twice approved to help fund law enforcement in Yakima County.

The $521,000 budget cut in 2013 for the Sheriff's office was put into place by county commissioners to help shore up a $1.6 million budget deficit for the corrections department.

In doing so, commissioners indicated no more than 82 percent of the county's general fund budget could be dedicated to law and justice costs due to previous cuts in other departments.

"I understand their decision, but I don't like it. I don't like where we are," Irwin said of commissioners holding law and justice costs at 82 percent. "You have to draw the line somewhere and keep the rest of Yakima County government functional."

Irwin also said his office is not alone in facing cuts, noting that Benton County is cutting $1.3 million from its Sheriff's budget and Klickitat County is cutting $300,000 from its Sheriff's office. "They're not even providing coverage 24 hours a day," Irwin said of Klickitat County.

The problem for Yakima County, he says, is a mix of high poverty and crime rates.

"There's less of a tax base and more crime, so it's a stress on the system," Irwin said.

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