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Franklin County BOC Nixes Sheriff's $600K Budget Hike for FY15

CARNESVILLE, GA -- Franklin County Commissioners say no to a proposed $603,000 increase to the Sheriff’s fiscal 2015 budget.

However, they do plan to consider increases as needed in fiscal 2015.

Sheriff Stevie Thomas is asking for a $3.7 million dollar budget to next fiscal year, which includes an increase of over $200,000 to house out violent inmates in other county jails until a new addition can be added to the Franklin County Detention Center.

But at the first reading and public hearing for the County’s fiscal 2015 budget Tuesday evening, the board heard from Commissioner Jeff Jacques who suggested the county keep the Sheriff’s budget at $3.2 million for FY15 – the same as this year.

"What I am proposing as related to the Sheriff's budget is with the overage in the Sheriff's budget, I would like to transition back to the same dollar figure that was allocated this (fiscal) year," Jacques began.

Jacques then recommended the county adopt a pay-out-as-needed approach for whatever the Sheriff might need in the next fiscal year.

"Then, as we transition throughout the fiscal year and as we see that specific needs arise, then the Sheriff can come back to the board and ask for amendments to the proposed budget," Jacques said.

Jacques also suggested, the county immediately amend the FY15 Sheriff's budget at their July meeting to include salary and insurance increases.

Citing the current budget overages in the Sheriff’s department, Jacques said there needs to be more accountability from the Sheriff.

"It's a way to circumvent and offset the significant budget overrun by the Sheriff's office this year," Jacques said. "It would put another layer of accountability for all of us who are partnered in this county government. It would ensure that we will stay within the confines of our budget and ensure to the taxpaying citizens that we will live within our means."

Jacques’ plan includes putting the extra $603,000 requested by the Sheriff into a contingency fund to use for all departments next fiscal year as funds are needed.

"Most of the other departments are either only slightly higher for FY15 or actually lower than this fiscal year," Jacques pointed out.

Calling it smoke and mirrors, Commissioner Clint Harper noted however, that currently there is no county contingency fund. Harper said the $738,000 that was set aside in FY14 had been spent and he noted the county had not included a line item creating a contingency fund for FY15.

"There's no line item currently in this year's budget for contingency but those funds, nonetheless were spent in last year's budget," explained County Manager John Phillips. "So, if you look at the total budget amount for last year, what was advertised and what was approved, was the $14,333,000. So, that money was there in hopes, I'm certain, that those contingency funds would not be spent, but those funds were actually expenditures to the county."

"We are $738,000 more in expenditures than last year because we did away with the contingency fund," Harper replied. "If we don't put any (more money) in contingency this year, and we spend another $700,000 next year that we don't have, like we did this year, then what happens?"

"That's a valid point," Phillips replied.

"My proposal puts basically $600,000 into that contingency line item," noted Jacques.

"That's true, but I want the public to know it's not as it appears," Harper said. "If you're saving x-amount of dollars every year and you no longer save that, then you're spending more. So, in a sense our (FY15) budget spends more than it did last year because we had a contingency fund. I think it's misleading to the public and was to a lot of commissioners until we saw the line of item of contingency was not there. I think we're going down a rocky and dangerous road."

Harper said the contingency fund, plus the planned million dollars to build the jail extension and operate it, would cost the county millions in FY15 that it doesn’t have.

"Then we're looking at the jail that is going to raise the budget another $200,000 - $250,000 down the road plus paying for the jail. Before long, we're going to have another $1 - 1.5 million. That's a 10% increase over our entire budget and we can't afford that without a significant tax increase."

Harper said he asked the Sheriff for a breakdown of their records and spending, but never got it.

"Where is this money going? Crime is down nationwide...why is there this increase? There's just no accountability for where t his money is going," Harper concluded.

But Commission chair Thomas Bridges commended the Sheriff's office for cutting costs.

"I appreciate the cooperation I see on the table," he said. "They did save a lot of money from certain angles and their (FY14) budget has gone up considerably. We actually should have amended their (FY14) budget before they spent it."

Bridges, however, did support Jacques' idea and said the Sheriff should come before the board next fiscal year to ask for extra money as needed and he later directed the county manager to secure a monthly breakdown from the Sheriff's office of their expenses.

Harper then asked if anyone was concerned about the County's fund balance, which is also low.

"The auditors have already expressed to us that we should have more in there and this budget doesn't account for raising our fund balance either," Harper said. "We're backing ourselves into a corner."

Later, during the county commission work session, the board voted to create the contingency line item for FY15, putting in the $603,000 difference from the Sheriff’s budget.

Sheriff Thomas was not at the work session and public hearing Tuesday and has not yet commented. The board plans to vote Monday morning in a called session to formally adopt the fiscal 2015 budget.