Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON– Faced with continued budget concerns, the Marshall County Fiscal Court and the Sheriff’s Office are looking at ways to fund an overall $152,000 budget increase. At the fiscal court’s regular meeting last week, Sheriff Kevin Byars said he feared having to lay-off staff or reduce services if the funds weren’t available.
“That’s my estimation of what it’s going to cost to maintain what we’re doing now,” Byars said of the department’s $1.764 million estimate. The number is up from $1.612 million to operate in 2011. Of the increase, $87,250 are higher deputy and court security salaries. Vehicle expenses– fuel, new car purchases and repairs– also increased by nearly $82,000.
To off-set rising costs, the budget calls for an increase in county funding from $220,000 to $438,900.
“There’s a $238,900 increase in subsidy,” said Judge Executive Mike Miller. “I’m not sure where we want this money to come from.”
Sheriff Kevin Byars said he has been working on scheduling to help alleviate some of the extra man power hours and reducing operating costs where he can.
“Over the last three years I’ve been able to cut out around $85,000 in overtime,” said Byars. “A lot of that was people going to in-service. We have to go to 40 hours of in-service every year. We’ve got several folks who have several weeks of vacation time built up.”
Former sheriff and current commissioner Terry Anderson asked what the county’s options were in regards to the budget increase.
“What you’re telling us is we have a choice to make: either subsidize this or cut something out,” Anderson said. “Lay people off or close early. The bottom line is, do we want to lay people off at the sheriff’s office? I do not want to do that.”
In addition to increased operating costs, the budget notes a decrease in dollars brought in. Being a fee-based office, the Sheriff’s Department brings in a portion of its operating capital from fees and services. Between 2011 and 2012, that income dropped off $18,000.
It’s been a problem county-wide in recent years as expenses continue to climb while money from fees and taxes remains stagnant or is reduced from the state level. Miller noted the county could not continue to operate by reducing services and employees in other areas
“Your fixed costs are continually going up,” Miller said. “Your income is flat lined. This court has not raised even the 0.4 percent [tax increase] we’re allowed to. We haven’t raised our general levy since 1999. You can’t keep taking from the road department and the refuse department when we’ve asked everybody to cut back,” Miller said.
Commissioner Misti Drew asked the court for an efficiency audit of county agencies, but criticized the court for past funding.
“I know personally the officers that used to depend on the overtime for proactive patrolling, they don’t get that any more,” Drew said. “We are responsible for collecting tax dollars and the people expect protection of persons and property. I think we still have a lot of things we can cut back on in the county.”
Drew did not specify which areas of county services she would be in favor of cutting. Drew said she also took issue with increasing the county’s subsidization of the jail and continued funding of the refuse department without increases to the Sheriff’s Department.
Commissioner Bob Gold noted that the road, refuse and parks department had all reduced personnel in recent years.
One option available for the court is if the county makes a move to a “fee pool” system. Under the system, the county’s two fee-based office– the Sheriff’s Department and Court Clerk’s Office– would submit received fees to the county, which would then be in charge of disbursements.
“What it looks to me is that we need to find a way to make it until June,” Anderson said. “If [the Sheriff’s Department] is going to fee pool, we’ll learn that at the end of the month. The sheriff needs to be as prudent as he can until that time, which I’m sure he will. If we get to that point, whatever we’re doing can be amended. Arguing about the subsidy for a year when we’re only going to operate for six months until we fee pool is irrelevant.”