Originally published at the North Coast Journal

It was the last big bash before the June primary for Sheriff candidate Mike Downey — a $25-a-pop tri-tip fiesta with enough meat to feed 400 people. The hall at Redwood Acres was poppin’ with live music, a silent auction that included accommodations for a pig hunt, local wine and even volunteers with aprons bearing Downey’s name. A large crowd attended the event, including some notables: Fourth District Supe candidate Virginia Bass and District Attorney candidate Allison Jackson, for starters.

Downey made sure to greet each person that arrived, even as he responded to the criticism about rampant overtime expenditures in the Sheriff’s Office by his opponent, Mike Hislop. Hislop has said that the Sheriff’s Office spent about $1.1 million on overtime last fiscal year, the difference of which had to be made up by pulling surplus funds from other county departments.

“My opponent is looking at one small piece of the budget and not the whole picture,” Downey said. “He’s misrepresenting the facts.”

Downey then proceeded to explain, with bureaucratic efficiency, just why this was the case. While an additional $1.8 million from the general fund was allocated to the Sheriff’s Office for fiscal year 2008, Downey said at the end of a fiscal year allocations are made to balance the budget. Though it would appear that the HCSO went over on their budget by that much, the budget numbers don’t reflect expected revenues that arrive after the budget cycle ends, such as Prop. 172 funds — state sales tax revenue that is spent on public safety.

Although Downey doesn’t deny there was overtime — a common occurrence within the department — what he does have words over is how much money the department went over as a result. After all sources of revenue arrived, the department was over only $279,000, which he attributed to the contract with Securitas to provide courthouse security, something the department manages but ultimately has no control over.

“There were some overtime issues,” he said, “but you have to remember we are a 24/7 operation.”

The budget operates off of expectations of revenue, which, in this case, didn’t materialize as expected in the case of Prop. 172 funds. Unforeseen events, such as search and rescue, lengthy investigations, and vacant positions that need to be filled, somehow all contribute to overtime, and Downey said that the department does the best they can to control overtime. The Board of Supervisors understands this and if it were a serious issue, he said, the Board and County Administrative Office would be the first ones pounding at the Sheriff’s door.

Downey also made it clear that the department took a 12.5 percent hit to its budget that year as well, and that this year, at the three-quarter mark, the department is under-budget.

“There’s no one standing on the courthouse steps shouting that the Sheriff’s Department is out of whack,” he said of the budget.