Pubdate: Tue, 30 Nov 2010
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2010 The Press Democrat
Author: Glenda Anderson
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Asset Forfeiture)


Money seized largely from illegal pot farms cut in half the number of 
Mendocino County law enforcement jobs slated for elimination Tuesday. 
And legal marijuana gardens could help ward off future cuts to public safety.

Following a contentious daylong debate, Mendocino County supervisors 
voted Tuesday to reduce the number of proposed job cuts in the 
Sheriff's Office budget to seven from 14.

In return, Sheriff Tom Allman said he would spend an additional 
$257,000 of asset forfeiture funds -- money collected primarily from 
marijuana busts -- to offset his department's $600,000 overtime 
budget. The Sheriff's Office had already committed $200,000 in asset 
forfeiture funds to the overtime budget.

The moves are aimed at reducing an anticipated $1.3 million deficit 
in his budget without gutting public safety.

Officials are hoping that someday soon, revenue from legal marijuana 
also will contribute to public safety.

"Marijuana is here to stay. They want to help. They want to be 
legitimate," said Sheriff's Sgt. Randy Johnson, who oversees the new 
county program that issues permits allowing medical marijuana 
cooperatives to grow up to 99 plants.

It may just be the budget "miracle" county officials have been 
looking for, said Julia Carrera, the program's independent inspector.

Since the program was implemented in the spring, 18 medical marijuana 
cooperatives have paid the $1,050 application fee to have their 
gardens permitted by the Sheriff's Office, Carrera said.

The marijuana farmers pay for her inspection services, which cost 
$500 each, she said.

The number of permits issued could skyrocket once farmers are 
convinced that applying for a permit will not lead to a raid on their gardens.

The permits could generate more than $600,000 next year, Carrera 
said. But only one supervisor, John McCowen, was willing to bet on 
that income source.

"That's funny money," said Supervisor Kendall Smith.

County Auditor-Controller Meredith Ford said the county's $221.5 
million budget already is balanced on "a wing and a prayer." She also 
warned that permit fees of any kind are limited to covering the 
county's cost of providing the service.

Balancing the Sheriff's Office budget is crucial to the county's 
financial well-being.

Law enforcement departments, which also include the jail, county 
prosecutors and defenders, comprise 53 percent of the county's $57.2 
million discretionary budget, said county Senior Administrative 
Analyst Kyle Knopp.

Of those departments, only the Sheriff's Office is running a deficit, 
he noted. But the county's Mental Health department also is in dire 
financial straits.

Supervisors recently approved 25 layoffs in that department to help 
close its $3.5 million deficit.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom