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Multnomah County commissioners say they'll withhold overtime funding for sheriff

Threat to cut budget called a 'bribe'

In what one politician says amounts to a bribe, Multnomah County commissioners are threatening to withhold $1 million in overtime funding for Sheriff Bernie Giusto's office if he doesn't cut investigations by the same amount.

'You could say it's a bribe,' said Lonnie Roberts, who represents East County on the board of commissioners.

But in order to make those cuts to investigations - as well as find money to pay for services that commissioners didn't want to fund, such as the jail's matrix release unit and access to the 9-1-1 system - Giusto said he must raid money now spent on jail beds.

If a funding solution isn't found by July 30, when the 2006-07 budget takes effect, Giusto said he must close 114 beds at the Inverness Jail in January.

The county's budget, approved last week, cuts $3.7 million from the sheriff's office budget, including $1.7 million in law enforcement funding.

Giusto said it's the biggest sheriff's office cut since the late 1980s, when annexations to Portland and Gresham resulted in reductions in law enforcement service.

Roberts accused commissioners Lisa Naito, Serena Cruz Walsh and Maria Rojo de Steffey of deliberately suggesting cuts that target East County.

For example, the $1 million cut in investigations will hurt East County most because it's where the Special Investigations Unit, which specializes in drug busts, spends the majority of its time looking into methamphamine labs and marijuana grows.

Cuts to investigations are really cuts to East County services, Roberts said.

Commissioners Naito, Cruz Walsh and Maria Rojo de Steffey were unavailable for comment on Friday due to the Fourth of July holiday.

Allegations of retribution

Roberts also thinks the cuts are payback to Giusto, who has in the past called the county commissioners his bankers.

Typically, the county provides funding to the sheriff, who then decides how those dollars should be spent and how any cuts should be made.

However, this year commissioners proposed specific cuts, even though Giusto ultimately decides whether to make them.

Some cuts proposed by the county were general, such as the $1 million in investigations.

Others were not. The three commissioners proposed:

• $207,211 in cuts for the matrix release unit - which takes away jails' ability to release inmates when jails are overcrowded. Giusto called this proposed cut impossible because state and federal law prohibits jail overcrowding. Giusto refuses to cut the unit and instead must take money from other services, namely jail beds, to make up the difference.

• Not funding the $297,000 it costs to access the 9-1-1 system, which Roberts called 'insane.' Giusto also refuses to make this cut and must raid jail bed funding to pay for 9-1-1 access.

• $155,000 in cuts to the civil unit. Giusto also refuses to make this cut, which would result in longer waits for restraining orders and eviction notices, and again must dip into jail bed funding to pay for the unit.

• Fund $50,000 of a $79,000 Corbett school resource officer, with the district to pay the remaining $29,000. Commissioners cut this position last year and won't release the $50,000 unless Corbett agrees to pay the difference.

Eliminating services to East County cities

Giusto said the $1 million in investigations cuts fits in with the county's 'implied goal of eliminating support to incorporated cities,' including Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview.

In order to make the required cuts to investigations funding, Giusto plans to cut four detectives from the current staff of 13. One of the cut detectives served on the regional computer forensics laboratory.

This would leave too few detectives to continue a new, very successful joint investigations unit now based at the Gresham Police Department.

As a result, Giusto has proposed combing the remaining detectives and Special Investigations Unit into a Community Response Unit that would focus on general and drug investigations relating to jails, rivers and unincorporated Multnomah County - Corbett, the area east of the Columbia River Gorge, Sauvie Island, Dunthorpe and cities that contract with Multnomah County for patrols. Those cites are Wood Village and Maywood Park in Northeast Portland.

Detectives would also have to refocus their investigative efforts to high profile warrant sweeps and crimes that occur in the jails because some detectives must be redirected from the Special Investigations Unit and the detectives unit.

According to budget notes dated Thursday, June 22 - the same day commissioners approved next year's budget - other services that benefit East County are on the chopping block.

This is the last year Multnomah County will fund a temporary holding facility at the Gresham Police Department. The facility allows sheriff's deputies to process East County criminals and take groups of inmates to the jail. This gives local police more time to patrol the streets, instead of driving to Portland.

Inmate work crews- often seen in East County - also are slated for funding only until 2007.

Roberts said the cuts specified by Naito, Cruz Walsh and Rojo de Steffey, oversteps the bounds of their authority. 'The key here is we have three members of the county board telling the sheriff how to do his job when they don't know what his job is,' Roberts said. 'They don't get to tell him what he's got to cut.'

The message they're delivering is to cut services to cities in East County, he added, pointing to the budget notes.

County commissioners call for cities such as Gresham, Troutdale and Fairview to reimburse Multnomah County for investigating cases within their jurisdictions.

Giusto is outraged by the notion, called 'full-cost recovery for incorporated law enforcement services' in budget notes.

'They're already paying for county services through their property taxes,' Giusto said of local residents.

The budget notes also call for investigating patrol service contracts with Wood Village and Maywood Park to see if it costs more to provide patrols than the county is charging.

If necessary, the county could renegotiate contracts to recoup costs or adjust services to align with what the cities can afford.