Guest Column: Should the Yolo County Board of Supervisors be asking the DA’s Office to revise its budget?

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By Matt Williams and Scott Steward Ragsdale
Special to the Express

The request by the DA’s Office to the Board of Supervisors to approve a 31 percent increase ($5.6 million) to the 2020-21 budget has not gone unnoticed.

The Sept. 5 article in the Daily Democrat by Margherita Beale makes it clear that Supervisor Saylor is not all alone in questioning the DA’s submitted budget. In addition to Supervisor Saylor’s reasonable request, asking the DA to explain the reasons for the budget increase, law enforcement institutions across the nation are under examination for multilayered institutional racism. That can and has put the men and women who apply the law on the defensive. With that in mind, it is important to remember that we all share the obligation of racial remedy, and that the County has the obligation to do so in a fiscally responsible manner, especially in these times when individual citizens and municipal jurisdictions are being forced to deal with loss of their basic income.

In a Sept. 11th Op-Ed, as the spokesperson for the DA’s office, representing the 32 DA’s office employees, Matt De Moura points out that the budget review, “should be measured, dispassionate, circumspect, and fair to due process.” De Moura’s then goes on to say that the inquiry into the DA budget is unfair and politically motivated.

I read the DA budget response. The 29 pages share plenty to be proud of – the six plus programs that provide victim support, neighborhood and collaborative courts, reduction of recidivism, ,environmental enforcement, and implicit racial bias education – but there wasn’t a clear connection between how those successful programs can lead to a reduction in the larger conventional criminal prosecution budget. Further, the response provides very little in the way of basic budgetary analysis.

In addition, I was confused by the response’s rationale as to why there is a need to use actual and plan estimates in past years as the basis for the present budget request. There was no need to tighten our individual and collective due to the impacts of COVID in past years. Two thirds of the budget is spent on criminal prosecution, but there is no line item expense breakdown for this largest part of the budget. Perhaps such detail is offered to the Supervisors directly.

I believe our DA’s office deserves credit for taking action to address society’s erroneous attempts to insulate ourselves from harder – and in many cases more immediately expensive – interventional and humane solutions. However, in these times of COVID, there is a morality to reducing the DA’s arrest and incarceration related budget. That reduction would also be consistent with the many successful programs described in the response.

The harder part (necessary and far less flamboyant part) of the negotiation between the DA’s Office and the Supervisors, must also address the rationalization of pay raises and the overall size of the budget when the public coffers are tapped and individuals in our community are seeing their pay disappear rather than rise.

With the above complexities in mind, the Board of Supervisors has an obligation to negotiate and agree with the DA’s office on a budget schedule that is in line with the anticipated lower budgets for all other County offices.

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