Sheriff outlines public safety challenges

Residents of unincorporated Kern County to vote on tax this November

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Sheriff outlines public safety challengesChallenges in public safety have been a high-profile topic of discussion in Kern County, Sheriff Donny Youngblood gave Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce attendees an update of obstacles, as well as funding options, during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

“I am an anti-tax sheriff, but I had to stand in front of the Board of Supervisors and ask them for a 1-cent sales tax.”

He traced the origins of the county’s financial woes to the plummeting prices of oil in 2015, when the county’s primary source of revenue fell from $100 a barrel to $30 a barrel.

The county’s economic prospects have since improved — oil is back up to $65 a barrel, Amazon is building a new distribution center near Meadows Field Airport and L’Oreal has opened a large operation at the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center.

But public safety – which makes up a significant portion of the county’s budget – suffered deep cuts that contributed to a declining number of deputies on the streets.

Youngblood said that he fields about half the number of deputies in Bakersfield today as he did 30 years ago. Meanwhile, Bakersfield had its 89th homicide for the year – a new record that accompanies rising murder rates across the county.

The sheriff’s office has been holding back-to-back academies to train new candidates, but the process takes about a year. Of the more than 1,000 who apply, about 1-3 percent will graduate.

Compounding the problem is Kern County’s inability to compete with pay in other counties – and even with other municipal police forces within the county.

These factors led Youngblood to ask for the 1-cent tax – levied only in unincorporated areas – to generate an estimated $20 million annually to increase law-enforcement resources in the most underrepresented areas of the county.

He noted that Ridgecrest residents, who already pays a public safety tax, will not see the option on their ballots, nor will the sales tax be implemented within city limits. But anyone living outside city limits will be voting on the item.

“The big question I get asked by the public is, ‘How do we know where the money will go?’” In an attempt to pass the initiative, the board opted to apply the tax to the

General Fund – which needs only 50-percent-plus-1, rather than two-thirds of voter support.

Youngblood said that he has an assurance from each supervisor that at least 60 percent will go to fund public safety.

“We will fill every vacant deputy position in the county, and bring up their pay at least to the level of the police department,” he said.

Story First Published: 2018-10-12