Sheriff’s Response to “budget woes”
The Sheriff’s Office has received a lot of criticism in the last several months. It appears to be the fashionable thing these days and an easy target. Sheriff Prine did not receive an invitation to the Chairman’s personal property for a review of the county’s budget and criticism of the Sheriff’s budget in particular. There are some facts that have not been reported by the Valdosta Daily Times, which may or may not have been provided.
First it should be noted that the Sheriff’s Office general fund budget was reduced from last year’s budget by $171,306. This was before another $130,492 was taken away in August as a result of shift in traffic citation processing responsibilities to the Clerk’s Office.
A closer look at some of the specific line items targeted for criticism will show that those line items cannot be judged without further information. The DARE supplies line item is at 99%. Supplies for the DARE program are bought before the school year begins in August. Yes that line is expended with no further expenditures expected in this fiscal budget. Education and Training is another line item where expenditures are encumbered at the time that the training is scheduled — not when the training event actually happens which may be months later. This is $11,500 budgeted for training for the entire Sheriff’s Office. “Rent/lease” is an $8,000 line item; but 87.73% sounds better for the critics. Again this is another line item that has contracts that are paid yearly—not monthly. “Subscriptions”—a $1500 line item that refers to directories and legal organs that are resources for the Sheriff’s Office to effectively function.
The “Sheriff’s Enforcement budget” is at 36.78%. Not exactly what we would consider as being “worse” than any other part of the larger budget.
The Jail is not a “department”; it is actually a significant part of what the Sheriff’s constitutional responsibility is. It actually has three (3) budgets. The General Fund—Jail budget is $6,486,397. This is where the salaries of over 100 employees is budgeted as well as a large part of the cost of the more than 600 inmates that are housed, fed and receive basic medical care is accounted for. The Commissary budget is a revenue generating account and has a budget of $624,924. The Jail Operations Fund is another revenue generating account that has a budget of $660,193.
Currently the whole Sheriff’s Office budget expenditures for FY 2014 are at 37%. With two weeks into November it is exactly where it is expected to be.
Now also consider that the Sheriff’s Office also generates some revenue. Bond forfeitures are returned to the general fund of the county. All funds generated from inmate commissary sales are returned to the jail fund that helps off-set some of the cost of inmate housing as well as inmate housing fees charged to other agencies. Charges for the service of civil papers are returned to the general fund of the county. The actual cost to taxpayers is less than the $17,138,334 that is budgeted to provide all of these services.
The budget process is more than just picking and choosing a few line items to look at. It is a complex and evolving tool used to measure the expenditures and revenues of the cost of providing services.
The Sheriff’s Office budget has been impacted like all businesses have with rising costs of health care which has had a significant increase over the last several fiscal years. As a result, other line items have been reduced to unreasonable expectations. And the county governing authority still refuses to budget one penny for the operations cost of the Regional Crime Lab that the City of Valdosta allows the Sheriff’s Office to utilize and that all citizens benefit from.
It is a shame that this has been made an issue by those who wish to discredit Sheriff Prine for the sake of political change. The Sheriff’s Office has certain responsibilities and mandates that have to be financed. A jail that averages more than 600 inmates per day; that these inmates are fed, housed, clothed and provided basic medical care. The Sheriff maintains a Patrol Division that responds to more than 2000 calls per month. There are criminal investigators, narcotics investigators and court services that serve all of Lowndes County. The Sheriff has committed to making sure that every county school has a school resource officer. There are over 200 employees who give their days, nights, weekends and holidays to serve this community in an agency that processes an average of 18,000 subpoenas and 4,000 arrest warrants annually. When one stops to consider that the Sheriff maintains all of these services and more, you have to value that service from a larger picture.
Don’t let the rhetoric fool you. The public has been given a one-sided view of a much bigger picture. There is a tremendous amount of accountability that goes into every dollar spent and the county finance director and county manager is a large part of that process.
The Sheriff’s Office expects to receive all blame for a pending increase in your taxes. But the truth is much broader than one agency’s budget.
-Sheriff Chris Prine