Budget passed despite objections

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By Bryan Marshall

The unanimous vote approving the 2014-15 county budget was quick June 2, but not before some displeasure was expressed with sheriff’s office funding.
Judge-Executive Darrell Link was set to ask for a motion to approve the second and final reading of the 2014-15 budget as Sheriff Chuck Dills spoke up.
“I just wish we had the opportunity to go over this budget with you as we have in past years,” Dills said to the fiscal court. “There is some concerns of some shortfalls that I wish we could have addressed with the court.”
Dills said that this year was the first time being sheriff that Link did not contact his office about going over his office’s budget.
“The common practice of year’s past is he would contact me or (Chief Deputy) Troy (Hagedorn) and we’d go over the budget,” he said. “He did not do that.”
Dills said he was not even aware that a first reading of the budget had occurred.
Although he is normally at every meeting, he missed the May meeting where a first reading of the budget occurred to attend his daughter’s kindergarten graduation.
When he learned of the first reading, he reached out to magistrates Wanda Hammons and Bobby Young about why he was not involved in the process.
Dills said the magistrates told him they assumed Link had contacted the sheriff’s office about the budget.
Link disagrees that the sheriff’s office was left out of the loop.
“We announced the budget caucus meeting at our fiscal court meeting, and we sent agendas noting the budget caucus and agendas noting the first and second reading of the budget to the sheriff, and yet no one from the sheriff’s office attended until the budget was finalized June 2,” he said.
After looking over the proposed budget, Dills said he quickly noticed some issues.
“The first thing that stuck out was that under vehicle replacement he had one dollar in the line item,” he said. “Also, I noticed there was shortfalls in other line items that did not meet obligations we had with contracts with our data software. We had discussed the hiring of a deputy.”
The sheriff’s office currently has eight road deputies, two deputies assigned to Grant County High School and Grant County Middle School, a chief deputy, two clerks and two full-time employees at the Grant County Judicial Center.
The sheriff’s office came to an agreement this past year with Grant County Schools to provide a school resource officer at Grant County Middle School with reimbursement from the district.
Dills said he was under the assumption that since a road deputy was being moved to the school another deputy could be hired as a replacement.
Two Grant County residents spoke in support of the sheriff’s office and the need for more funding.
“There’s been 52 line-of-duty deaths in the United States this year, up 8 percent from last year,” Steve Kelly of Dry Ridge said. “These men and women that are protecting us in our great county, they’re out here doing this by themselves. A pay raise is great. Who doesn’t want a pay raise? New vehicles are great. But, those things don’t save lives. When a deputy is responding to a domestic dispute or a burglary by themselves it’s a recipe for disaster. One of these days it’s going to happen.”
As a Corinth resident, Bob Hall said the rural parts of the county could use more law enforcement manpower.  
“Right now, we have a very serious problem with heroin in this county that’s affecting a lot of young children and also adults,” he said. “And yet, we’re down to eight patrolling officers in this county. I know in my area I am lucky to see a unit down there because these guys are stretched so thin to have to deal with the problems they face every evening.”
After the vote, Link explained that since he is leaving office at the end of the year, there are certain restrictions placed on the budget.
Link said he must leave 35 percent of the cash budget for his successor, meaning large budget expenditures such as sheriff’s office vehicles that would have been ordered on July 1 will be delayed until Jan. 5 and left to the discretion of the next administration.
Current magistrate Dick Austin, a Democrat, faces off against Republican challenger Steve Wood in the November general election for the county’s top seat.
“We have to leave a sufficient amount of funds left so the incoming judge, should that be Mr. Wood or Mr. Austin, would have the opportunity to run the county in the first six months of their term,” Link said. “They’re going to be inundated with making decisions, along with a number of other things. So, they shouldn’t have to worry about cash being there or not. With the budget we’ve passed, we’ve left them with a discretion on how to best use those funds that we’ve set aside. They can purchase cruisers. They can add on staff. They can sit down with the sheriff and his chief deputy, Troy, as much as they want and they can come up with some hopefully good decisions that would be pleasing to you all.”
As the meeting wrapped, the magistrates spoke up about the budget as well.
“Everybody has to realize that we only have x amount of dollars to work with,” Young said.
Hammons said this is the second budget that she has participated in and she is learning everyday.
She pointed out that during next year’s budget process there will be a new judge-executive and at least one new magistrate.
“The one thing I would like to see or recommend is that at least one magistrate sit down with the judge and at least with the sheriff and the jailer because those are two elected officials,” she said. “I think it’s important to bring everyone to the table and listen. I look forward to the next budget and listening to everyone’s concerns.”
Despite some complaining about the budget, Austin said he was not contacted by anyone before the meeting with concerns.
That comment led to Deputy Mike Webster telling Austin that he is not approached because he was overheard telling a judicial center security employee that if they did not like how the county was run that maybe he should move.
“I happened to be in the justice center one day and (the justice center employee) was talking about how Judge Link has not done anything for the county and kept going on about how bad things were. I said, ‘If it’s that bad, maybe you might want to consider moving.’ Is that something that would be out of line to say to somebody who was downgrading our judge and talking about how bad things are in Grant County?”
“I’ve always tried to be open minded and receptive to anything anybody wanted to talk to me about,” Austin said. “But, I did not appreciate his derogatory remarks about Judge Link.”  
After the vote, Kelly again pleaded for the magistrates to change their mind about the funding for the sheriff’s office.
Link said changes could be made after the next administration was sworn into office in January.
With the possibility of Austin being elected the next judge-executive, Kelly asked him to listen to what the public wanted.
“Mr. Austin, be a leader. Don’t be a follower,” Kelly said. “You don’t have to follow what the judge does. Stand up and do what the citizens want.”