Sheriff’s budget cuts hardest on rural areas?

Five months have passed since the day Mo Burshears’ home was burglarized.

Some citizens think so, but officials say no

Five months have passed since the day Mo Burshears’ home was burglarized.

Last week, she looked in her bedside drawer for a prized document to show her son. Unable to locate the decade-old piece of paper, she remembered that the entire contents of the drawer were taken from her home during a robbery last February.

“I can’t ever get that back,” Burshears said.

The robbers kicked in the steel front door and ransacked her Snoqualmie-area home. None of the family’s belongings have been recovered.

Burglaries are nothing new to rural King County homes, but residents are worried that theft in rural areas will increase as a result of the projected cuts to the 2009 King County budget. Cuts are being contemplated due to a projected $68 million deficit, according to county officials. County Executive Ron Sims’ proposed budget will be released to King County Council in mid-October. The council is scheduled to approve a final version on Nov. 24, and the budget will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2009.

Sheriff Sue Rahr has recommended that building maintenance and administrative costs be reduced. Rahr said she expects 20 deputies and some administrative services to be cut. Her worst-case scenario is a loss of 75 deputies. If that happens, the county wouldn’t have the manpower to investigate property crimes under $10,000.

“That’s what I’m trying to avoid,” Rahr said. “We need to tighten our belts before we go to the last option.”

Burshears said her family doesn’t plan to move. Behind their house, her two sons like to play with their friends in a densely forested area. But in hindsight, the family wishes they had known how to live “smart” in a rural area, she said.

While the Burshears took a bid on an alarm system several years ago, the company seemed disreputable, and they passed on the offer. Since the burglary, the home has been equipped with a Brinks alarm system.

Had they realized that steel doors are easier to break open than many other styles, they would have installed another kind. A solid mahogany door has taken the place of the steel door. Burshears said she learned that solid wood doors are the safest, followed by glass doors because thieves are afraid of cutting themselves on the glass when they break in.

For now, the family will continue to be as proactive as possible by safeguarding their home and actively monitoring local e-mail groups aimed at neighborhood awareness. But they are still concerned about the possible effects of the county budget cuts on area patrols and police response times.

The Burshears family’s home burglary experience isn’t unique. Neighbor Perry Cole has been robbed twice – the second job was carried out exactly three months and a week after the first. Many neighbors feel that their homes are targeted for theft due to their remote location, but think that they shouldn’t be subjected to such crimes simply because they live in unincorporated areas of King County.

County officials, however, said the cuts aren’t centered on rural areas.

Bob Cowan, director of the office of management and budget, said rural residents have nothing to worry about over the new budget.

“It is important to know that (Rahr) didn’t recommend any changes or reductions in service or patrol to rural areas,” Cowan said. Rahr made a number of other changes to the budget, he said, reflecting smarter spending on non-safety-related costs such as building maintenance and payroll.

Public safety, along with other mandatory county services, will receive smaller reductions than discretionary services, according to Cowan.

“Mandatory programs need an 8.6 percent reduction as opposed to the 33 percent reduction to discretionary programs,” Cowan said.

In addition to possible cuts to the criminal justice budget, public health and community and human services are being asked to cut 33 percent.

“Nothing will be set in stone until October,” county spokeswoman Natasha Jones said. “The (claim) that public safety is taking a bigger cut than other programs isn’t true. There’s a lot of moving parts, and we want to make sure citizens understand the reasons behind the process.”

King County isn’t the only county experiencing budget cuts, said Jones. “All of the counties in the state are facing deficits because of the downturn in the economy,” she said.