Folks aren't buying products and services like they used to and the impact of dwindling government sales tax revenues is about to be felt hard inside the local agency charged with putting criminals in prison.
In an interview this morning, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said that a $3.1 million budget gap in the current fiscal year is forcing him this month to begin furloughing his deputy prosecutors and laying off investigators.
Under the plan, prosecutors will have 13 furlough days--essentially every third Wednesday of the month (except for December, when they'll be two furlough days). The DA says he must also "temporarily lay off" rotating groups of his investigators for a total of nine days.
"I don't like to do this," said Rackauckas. "It's not pleasant. It's not fun. But the money is just not there. What do you do?"
For the union representing Orange County deputy district attorneys as well as public defenders, the answer to Rackauckas' question is simple: find other cost-saving measures but don't furlough prosecutors.
"This furlough idea puts unnecessary limitations on the amount of work prosecutors can do," said Scott Van Camp, treasurer of the Orange County Attorney's Association (OCAA) and a veteran public defender. "That may not be the politically correct thing for me to say, given where I work. But the truth is that I don't believe people in this county, especially victims of crime, want their prosecutors told on certain weekdays that they won't be allowed to work. What they do is just too important to the criminal justice system."
After hearing rumors in July of potential furloughs, OCAA officials presented Rackauckas with a series a counter proposals they claim would save the DA more than $1.4 million, the amount of the agency's $3.1 million shortfall attributed to prosecutors' salaries and benefits. (The other portion of the $3.1 gap applies to other wings of the DA's office, including the bureau of investigations.) Those proposals included forgoing overtime and special pay, agreeing not to cash out annual unpaid leave and giving up optional benefits. Union officials say they don't believe Rackauckas carefully considered their options and understands the potential negative impacts of his decision.
Van Camp say the furlough plan has unintended consequences.
"Actually, I believe under Rackauckas' plan he's going to have to pay the prosecutors for working more than 40-hour weeks and he's never had to do that in the past," said Van Camp.
The DA doesn't see the union making any concession.
"I'm not planning to pay any extra overtime anyway," he said.
Though the furlough days equal a five percent pay cut for the prosecutors, their union says the greatest concern isn't about money but rather public safety.
"The deputy DA's don't like the furlough plan because they believe they have an obligation to obtain justice for the people of Orange County," said Van Camp. "That obligation frequently requires them to work more than 40 hours a week, and they want to be able to work more than that when it's necessary."
Van Camp and prosecutors say office morale has plummeted.
Rackauckas' response? "I expect my prosecutors to handle their cases with professional pride just as they always have. If they don't, then, well, we'll have to deal with that."
The DA says he offered to furlough investigators for 13 days also, but saw his suggestion rejected by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS), which represents members of the DA's bureau of investigations.
"I gave them the furlough plan and they didn't salute either," said Rackauckas, cracking a smile.
Because the AOCDS contract blocks furloughs and, according to the DA, the union leadership itself has been uncooperative in negotiations, Rackauckas says he had to find another solution. He believes he's left with no choice but to implement "temporary lay-offs" totaling nine unpaid days for each investigator.
Worse, according to Rackauckas, unlike his furloughed prosecutors, laid-off investigators won't receive benefits, an outcome he considers a result of negligent AOCDS representation.
"The DA is being disingenuous," said Wayne Quint, president of AOCDS. "We're fighting to protect the benefits of his investigators. He's the one who is trying to take them away."
Besides, Quint believes, the temporary lay-offs of DA investigators are "illegal."
AOCDS and OCAA sources hint that legal actions are being considered.
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Said one prominent law enforcement source who asked for anonymity, "Tony should just man up, go back to the board of supervisors and demand more money for public safety."
"This is all very difficult," Rackauckas told me. "I understand that. I'm not saying I've found the perfect answers. But we're going to have to work together to get through this. It's certainly possible that more cuts may be necessary later."
Furloughs for prosecutors, which will match court staff furlough days, begin on August 19. Layoffs for DA investigators begin on August 17.
-- R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly