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Juvenile Hall Sparks Intense Debate At Supervisors Meeting

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Sonora, CA — During the morning budget discussions at the Tuolumne County supervisors meeting, there was talk about scaling back the juvenile hall, reducing the new jail’s operations, and increasing fees for recreation programs.

The county must pass a new budget, with millions of dollars in cuts, prior to July 1st.

CAO Tracie Riggs opened by stating that these discussions are “difficult for all of us,” and noted the county aims to “provide programs and services, and not take them away.”

The juvenile hall discussion had the most intense exchange between the supervisors and staff members.

CAO Riggs stated that she contacted the state about the legal ability to potentially close it. A series of conversations over recent weeks led to the state allowing a “warm closure” where day programs could continue, but 24/7 services would stop.  This year’s projected cost to run the facility was around $1.4-million, and the warm closure, she said could save around $600,000.

Dan Hawks, who stepped into the role of Chief Probation Officer last month, argued for a delay on a decision, so that he can provide a more detailed presentation about what he feels the cost savings would be. He said that his estimates are that the best-case savings would be around $200,000, given the contracts, and the increasing costs to send juveniles to other counties.

Supervisor Karl Rodefer raised his voice and challenged Hawks to go back and get commitments from regional partners, and cut costs, to come up with $600,000. “We’re on a very fast train,” said Rodefer.

Rodefer also argued that other counties are under-cutting Tuolumne County, paying around $100 per day to send kids here, when it costs the county between $300-$400 to provide the services.

Rodefer continued to note that these issues should have been addressed years ago and said Hawks should have been ready to present the figures today.

Mike Arndt, the county’s supervisor for juvenile services, came up in Hawk’s defense. He said Rodefer’s tone was, “uncalled for, unprofessional and unbecoming of a public official.” He then said Rodefer should resign.

Arndt stated that the Probation Department was not asked to present at the meeting. He went on to say, “Get your facts straight before you start yelling at my boss like that.”

Ardnt ended by saying, “With that, it has been the pleasure of my career to work with the kids of this county, and I resign.”

Judge Donald Segerstrom also spoke during the comment period, and stated the hall is a critical part of the juvenile justice system in Tuolumne County. Previously youth were sent to places like Bakersfield and Stockton. He says this had led to bad outcomes for the youth and high transportation costs. He said closing it would be a “huge step backwards.”

There was also a letter of concern submitted by Superintendent of Schools Cathy Parker, which can be found by clicking here.

Supervisor Anaiah Kirk challenged those upset to reach out to other counties, and the Governor’s Office, to look for more funding.

Supervisor Ryan Campbell noted that two ballot measures were put before the public to keep facilities like this open. He also earlier brought up the idea of putting a new transient occupancy tax measure on the ballot.

Supervisor Rodefer stressed that he would like to see the facility remain open, but this is the toughest budget situation he has been a part of. “We’re going to cut some things that no one on this dais wants to cut.”

He also apologized for the “verbal fracas” but said he wants the probation department to find a way to run the juvenile hall with $600,000 less revenue.

The board agreed to give the Probation Department a week to prepare a presentation, and go back and renegotiate contracts, and a special meeting regarding the facility, will be held next Tuesday.

Also today, Sheriff Bill Pooley gave an overview of a planned reorganization of the Sheriff’s Department that would impact the new jail. The facility, which he stated is now scheduled to open around October or November, has a max capacity of 230 inmates. The sheriff’s office was hoping to add five new deputies to help staff it and four custody support technicians. Over the next budget year it will instead be capped at 150 inmates. The five new deputy positions will be frozen, one jail support technician will be dropped, and a Sgt. position will be phased out. Overall, it will save around $800,000.

Regarding recreation programs, it was noted that the county general fund covers around 70-percent of the costs, and the program participants cover the remaining 30-percent. The county would would like participants to move closer to covering 100-percent.

Looking at actual costs, it could increase the fee for programs like Tiny Tots from the current $124 per session to $226, and the current summer recreation day camps could go from the current $124 per session to $335. The pool fees could also spike, as would the costs for youth sports organizations to rent Standard Park. Those details  will be hashed out in later weeks.

The supervisors took a break for a lunch recess and will return this afternoon. Later there will be discussions about libraries and the percentage of funding received by the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau.

The meeting can be viewed live online.

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