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Concerns About Sheriff Funding Discussed at County Commission Meeting

True-Up for 2017 Budget Requires Over $500K from County Rainy Day Fund to Be Shifted to Sheriff’s Office Budget

Every calendar year the County Commission approves a budget ordinance that is called a “true-up”. The goal of the ordinance is to reconcile the projected budget versus the carryover amount from the previous year. Carryover is a term used to describe the difference between the prior year’s budget and how the actual numbers finished up. The carryover this year for Clay County was $1,253,000 ahead.

County Sheriff Paul Vescovo appeared before the Commission as he was concerned about the affect the 2017 true-up would have on his budget for the year.

The core of Vescovo’s concerns dealt with the Clay County Sheriff’s Rainy Day Fund. The true-up took $100,000 from this fund which is where Vescovo often goes to pay for additional overtime hours that the Sheriff’s office may utilize. The fund was left with only $41,000.

Vescovo appeared before the Commission telling them that he was concerned because historically the current Commission had underfunded overtime which often forced Vescovo to come before the Commission to ask for needed overtime funds.

“I have no problem coming before the Commission or the public to explain why we’re over a certain budget line item, but if this is going to be cut by $100,000 it becomes almost a mute point.”

Vescovo went on to list the previous year’s overtime figures that had been incurred:

  • 2014 $467,000
  • 2015 $496,000
  • 2016 $558,000

For 2017, the Sheriff’s department has been budgeted $425,000 for overtime which is about $75,000 below the average of the previous three years.

Vescovo explained that it is typical for law enforcement to have large amounts of overtime because of the nature of the job. Crime and natural disaster is often unpredictable and can lead to sudden overages without notice.

Assistant County Administrator Laurie Portwood told the Commission that the Sheriff’s department was short on carryover in the amount of $645,290.62. Portwood said that the difference was made up by moving $545,290.62 from the County’s rainy day fund and the $100,000 from the law enforcement rainy day fund.

Vescovo responded telling the Commission that it was his opinion that someone in county administration had “grossly overestimated” the carryover for the law enforcement fund.

Commissioner Owen then questioned what the budgeted amount for overtime was this year, saying that he thought that it should be increased by $200,000.

After some conversation with Commissioner Ridgeway about the issue, Vescovo stressed that he wasn’t trying to blame anyone, but felt that his department was being penalized for an error that was made.

“I’m not trying to place blame with anyone else or anything like that, again, it’s not the Sheriff’s office to do these estimations on carryover. Again, I feel like we’re being penalized for someone else’s oversight.”

Portwood responded to Vescovo’s comments.

“It’s important to note that while the carryover was estimated at a little over $1 million dollars the Sheriff’s office encumbered $505,000. That’s what has now reduced the amount of the carryover that would have been available for 2017. Again the Sheriff’s office was short by $645,000, $100,000 was taken from the rainy day fund, however $545,000 was funded out of the general fund rainy day. The Sheriff’s department was not cut. They walked away with an additional $545,000 from the general fund’s rainy day.”

We reached out to the Sheriff’s office about this $505,000 that Portwood spoke about. Captain Steve Siercks told us that the Sheriff’s office did in fact spend money from the carryover before the end of 2016. The unexpected funds were a result of below average gasoline prices.

The Sheriff’s office also told us that the money was spent on needed equipment which did include 2 cars that only cost a total of about $63,000. They were not required to ask the Commission to spend the money due to the fact that the monies were originally 2016 budgeted funds that were not spent.

We also asked about the overtime trend for this year. They told us that it is trending higher again.

Commissioner Nolte expressed his concerns about the Sheriff’s budget telling the Commission and Vescovo that he couldn’t support the true-up that was before the Commission.

The budget true-up was approved by a vote of 2-1 with Nolte voting no on the ordinance.

About Andrew Palmer