Budget woes

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Cuts concern sheriff

By Bryan Marshall

More than $100,000 is being slashed from next year’s Grant County Sheriff’s Office proposed budget—  a move that will severely hamper services for the county, according to Sheriff Chuck Dills.
“I’ll do whatever possible so we continue to respond to calls,” he said. “But, the problem is, there is an effect to it. If they’re going to eliminate money for us to do our job, we’re going to have to eliminate some sort of service.”
The 2012-13 budget for the sheriff’s office proposed by Grant County Judge-Executive Darrell Link provides $101,263 less in funding from the office’s current year budget.
The budget, which includes a 1.8 percent raise for employees, has $1.028 million in expenditures.
The fiscal court will vote on the second reading of the county budget, which also includes all other county departments, during its June 4 meeting at 7 p.m. at the Grant County Courthouse.
“There’s not a whole lot to cut in our line items,” Dills said. “Our salaries are fixed. Fuel cost is pretty well fixed. Retirement’s fixed.”
“It’s not like we have slush funds that we buy toys with,” he said.
Dills originally asked for funding to purchase three new vehicles that are needed because of cruisers with high-mileage and continuous service and repair costs.
However, only one vehicle was kept in the final proposed budget.
The money budgeted for vehicle repairs also has been reduced from $18,000 this year to $16,000 for next year.
As of May 24, the sheriff’s office had already spent more than $17,000 in vehicle repairs with still more than a month to go in the fiscal year.
A log keeps track of how many miles are on each vehicle and when they need to replaced or moved out of the road crew.
One vehicle costs an estimated $24,000 plus another $15,000 in necessary equipment, including a mobile data unit, installed.
There are currently four vehicles out of service, said Chief Deputy Sheriff Troy Hagedorn.
“Coverage-wise, it’s not having an impact with them being down right now because we’re able to shift other people and share some cruisers,” he said. “But, the adverse effect of that is beating that cruiser up. It just compounds the problem if you don’t address it. Someplace else, it’s making it worse.”
The sheriff’s office uses vehicles stationed at the Grant County Judicial Center to do about 90 percent of transports because they have more mileage and wear and tear.
However, it may soon be necessary to switch some of those vehicles back to the road crew, which would mean the vehicle would run constantly for eight-hour shifts throughout the county in conditions that sometimes could be hard on the cruiser.
“When you put these constraints on us, we cannot provide the level of service that has not only become to be expected, but demanded, by the public,” Hagedorn said.
Dills agrees.
“Cars are going to break down,” he said. “We may have to park cars or won’t be able to patrol as much. We’re already under patrolled now.”
Another line item that Dills said needs more funding is for data.
The proposal only budgets $1,000 for 2012-13 even though the office has about $4,500 in contracts for law enforcement software, including the county tax program, and the website host agreement.
Last year, the budget for data was $8,500.
Dills originally proposed $15,000 in his budget for data because of the need to replace a server, a move that was recommended by the county’s IT (information technology) technician.
There also is a need for replacements for a couple printers and computers, said Dills.
The sheriff’s office generates approximately $950,000 in revenue and receives about $400,000 from the county, according to Dills.
Other than serving court papers, inspecting vehicles, transports and collecting taxes, Dills said his hands are tied when it comes to bringing in money.
The fiscal court have “hung their hats” on the fact that they have not raised taxes, said Dills, adding that several times the tax rate has actually been lower when they opted to not take the compensating rate.
“But, to me, that’s not for seeing the future because the problem is expenditures are passing revenue,” Dills said. “And, they know that.”
Grant County is at an impasse and it may be necessary to think about raising taxes to generate more money for county departments that have scaled down budgets year after year, Hagedorn said.
“At some point, the solution to the problem can not be cut, slash, scale back,” he said. “Every year, it’s the same thing. It’s never, come to the table and let’s talk about the issues and what we can do to fix this. We all know what it is, but nobody wants to bite the bullet. We can’t generate anymore revenue than we are. I’m not for big government. However, I’m for the size of government it takes to operate.”