The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office offered some details on the programs it will eliminate or streamline as part of a downsizing that included layoffs on Monday.

Sheriff Mark Garber confirmed in a prepared statement Tuesday that the office would operate fewer programs with fewer employees. Sheriff's spokesman Lt. John Mowell confirmed the layoffs would affect 42 employees. The employees will receive their final paycheck in mid-December, he said.

Mowell said the Sheriff's Office doesn’t enjoy laying people off during the holiday season.

“This is a necessity for the agency,” he said. “The agency determined it would be much better for the individual employees to let them know right now instead of going through the holidays and accumulating debt, then finding out their position may be gone after the holidays.”

Steps were taken before layoffs, he said. Garber said in a statement the first step toward cost savings was to decrease the agency's size by leaving positions vacant that were caused by resignations, retirements and terminations. But that wasn’t enough, Mowell said.

Priorities such as recruitment and retention and maintaining competitive pay in the marketplace were also factors in the process, according to the statement. Recent raises in pay for law enforcement officers employed by surrounding agencies further emphasized these needs.

In November, Lafayette Consolidated Government approved a pay raise for Lafayette Police Department officers, bumping their starting salary to $40,000. The pay raises also included a pay increase for officers at all levels to maintain the agency’s pay scale.

Mowell said the sheriff's administration began to hear rumblings among the ranks that employees and deputies were discontented with the wage gap between their pay and municipal officers’ pay. The starting salary at the Sheriff’s Office is $32,933.28, the lowest for law enforcement agencies in the parish.

The department already struggles with employee losses to other departments and industries and feared losing more employees, Mowell said. After the Police Department raises, it became critical to address, and the discussion turned more seriously to broader layoffs and program reductions.

Mowell said the hope is that the money saved through layoffs and program suspensions will be able to support a pay raise for staff and deputies to support retention efforts.

“I will not compromise my duty to public safety by maintaining non-mandated programs while being unable to fairly compensate the brave and compassionate men and women who serve Lafayette Parish.” Garber said. “No one likes the idea of layoffs because you know individual families are affected, but I have a greater duty to the public and to our employees who expect the very best law enforcement; and I promised to provide it.”

The following programs will be streamlined or suspended, according to the statement:

  • The LPSO Vegetable Farm
  • Outpatient Services Program
  • LAPCORR (A jail industry that manufactures and sells items made by inmate workers)
  • Drug Testing Services
  • The Transitional Work Program
  • Juvenile Assessment Center/Youth Services
  • OutReach
  • Inmate work crews
  • Alternative Sentencing Program
  • Sheriff's Tracking Offender Program

Offender programming will also be modified and reduced as part of this financial reorganization but will have no impact on the offenders’ incarceration status, according to the statement.

The downsizing comes after months of cuts, restructuring and repeated attempts to secure critical funding for daily operations, Garber said, and the changes are necessary to maintain the financial health of the agency.

In October, Garber filed suit against LCG, saying the city-parish government has not been paying its fair share of the costs of operating the parish jail. In an attached letter, Garber also outlined several community support programs not mandated by law that are running deficits.

Garber warned layoffs and program consolidations were possible when a proposed half-cent sales tax failed at the polls in December. The tax would have generated $25 million for the Sheriff's Office and funded new equipment, deputy positions and other needs.

Mowell said community support, diversion and offender rehabilitation programs were reduced because those programs, while beneficial, are not covered in the agency's mandated tasks. He said the agency will look at funding options for the suspended programs in the new year, including potential public-private partnerships or funding support from other area law enforcement agencies.

“We’re very hopeful we’ll be able to get these programs reinstated in some capacity,” Mowell said.

Garber inherited the programs from his predecessor, retired Sheriff Mike Neustrom, who served for four terms from 2000 to 2016. Neustrom has a doctorate in criminal justice and built his tenure around the creation and expansion of diversion programs, reentry training and work opportunities, and mental health care.

Garber has raised concerns about the programs’ cost since he first took office, citing the “perfect storm” of declining state and local revenues as a barrier to maintaining Neustrom’s programs at previous levels. He’s also raised issue over outstanding bonds and unfunded future pensions and retiree benefits he inherited while pressing local government for additional funding support.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com