Law enforcement feeling the pinch
Consolidation on the table, but not likely
The Glenn County grand jury said increased funding to law enforcement would mean safer communities.
To the local agencies, that's easier said than done.
Glenn County used one-time money to cover a $1 million shortfall in its 2012-13 budget.
Willows approved a deficit budget with more than $200,000 in red ink.
Orland expects to end the year with a positive balance, but not without sacrifices in the Planning Department.
"We're actually doing pretty well," said Orland Police Chief J.C. Tolle. "We're not in dire straights yet."
But downward cash flow, cuts from federal, state and local funding sources are still forcing local officials to think outside the box when it comes to providing services.
"We have to start changing the way we do things," Glenn County Supervisor Mike Murray said at the county's recent budget hearing. "The state keeps cutting money and we can't expect them to take care of us."
Tolle said that while his department is adequately funded, it still takes a diligent police presence to keep people safe.
"We have a very active and proactive department," Tolle said. "You have to work hard to maintain that."
One of the greatest sacrifices for the Willows and Orland police departments and Glenn County Sheriff's Department, however, has been the loss of personnel on a narcotics task force, officials said.
"We all but pushed the super (methamphetamine) labs out of California, but we see them now starting to come back in," said Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones. "That is what happens when you drop your vigilance."
In Hamilton City, gang infiltration in also on the rise, even in children as young as 10, and gun violence has exploded, Jones said.
All three agencies, however, strive to maintain their community policing efforts, but personnel to handle evidence, follow up on court cases and other incidentals typically fall to the wayside or force command staff to fill in, officials said.
"If we took anymore cuts, I'm not sure where it would come from," Jones said.
In Willows, the recent loss of two police officers and a community service officer has been devastating, officials said.
With the current deficit, city officials have again pulled the plug on hiring a new officer to lighten the load, said Willows police Sgt. Carl Walter, Public Safety Association president.
"These vacancies have come with a price to the ability of the Police Department to function at its most effective level," Walter said. "It has also come at a personal price to the individual officers that must give up time off and remain far more flexible with their free time in order to make such a short-staffed schedule work. Not only does this affect personnel, but the level of service that we can provide to the community will be affected by these continued cuts."
The budget picture is bleak enough that the City Council sub-committee suggested looking at the possibility of contracting with either the Orland Police Department or the Glenn County Sheriff's Department for police services.
"I don't see that happening any time soon, but we don't know what will happen in the future," said Willows City Manager Steve Holsinger.
Consolidation or mergers of law enforcement agencies are not new concepts, but many do not believe the city would see the savings.
"Whether administrating your own police agency or contracting (the services), these costs will still exist," said Willows Chief of Police Bill Spears.
Sheriff's deputies and Orland police are paid higher than Willows police officers, which would actually drive up personnel costs for Willows.
Merging services between Orland and Willows would also mean changes in vehicles, uniforms, training, weapons and equipment.
"It is not something that can be done easily," Glenn County Undersheriff Rich Warren said. "There would be a lot of things that would have to be looked at very carefully."
Most of all, all Glenn County's top law enforcement officials believe each community has an individual culture that the citizens will be reluctant to alter.
"Each area has a unique identity," said Tolle, who grew up in Willows. "I'm not sure the people would want to give that up."
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.