Quorum's budget committee studies jail, sheriff expenses
With a personnel committee recommendation to fund 2005 jail operations from the county's sales tax, without touching general revenues, the county budget committee recommended Thursday afternoon to further hold the funding to 90 percent of 2003 sales tax revenues.
State law requires the county's general fund to be budgeted at 90 percent of projected income. It is not clear whether the same is required on designated sales tax revenues, but the budget committee agreed that such would be prudent.
Sales tax revenues, designated first to jail operations, have been increasing approximately two percent per year, and is estimated currently at $1,380,000.
Justice of the Peace Bill Goff expressed concern about a softening economy, based on reports of Wal-Mart stores experiencing a drop in sales earlier in the week. The Wal-Mart Supercenter in Berryville is the county's largest collector of sales tax.
Sheriff Chuck Medford presented a proposed budget adjusted to accommodate a 25-cents-per-hour pay raise for his department's employees, approved by the quorum court earlier this month.
Revised downward, eliminating the position of jail administrator, his proposal called for $875,000, with $449,000 for salaries, $173,000 for benefits, and $206,000 to cover jail operations. The committee called for the budget to be further revised to fall within the 90 percent guideline.
The county's Central Dispatch Committee determined last Tuesday that it will cost the county approximately $400,000 to operate central dispatch in the courthouse once the sheriff's office moves to the new jail facility on Hailey Road.
That $400,000, coupled with Medford's request Thursday for $875,000 to run the jail, brings the total uncomfortably close to the total projected revenues generated by the sales tax.
It was determined the central dispatch funding will have to come out of general revenues.
After loan amortization for jail construction, an estimated $876,000 would remain in jail tax revenues, a mere $1,000 above Medford's request.
The county's financial picture for 2005 is clouded by lack of data regarding costs of operating the new jail, including staffing requirements and utility costs.
Running at 60 to 70 percent capacity, food costs are projected at $75,000 per year. Medford plans to have a garden, which prisoners would work, and graze a few head of cattle for butchering, to help reduce food costs.
The budget committee was reluctant to rely on possible income from other counties using the new jail to house prisoners, as that policy has not proven effective elsewhere in the state.
Payment for convicted felons held for the state depends on judgment and commitment papers coming to the sheriff within 30 days of the decision, and if that the paperwork is acceptable by the Department of Corrections. The state will not pay for housing a felon for more than 30 days prior to receipt of approved paperwork.
Medford noted judgement and commitment papers for one felon, housed in the jail since February, have still not come in. Circuit Clerk Ramona Wilson said that her office gets judgement and commitment papers out as soon as possible, and that the circuit judge orders the paperwork to be supplied to her office within seven days of sentencing. "That's not happening," she said.
(Editor's note: Judgment and commitment papers on the felon, Charles Grandville Hamilton Sr., housed in the jail since February, were filed on March 31, and called for time served in county and federal incarceration to be credited to his sentence. According to Andrea Snyder, office manager for Prosecutor Tony Rogers, the Arkansas Department of Correction did not accept the papers because there was no break down of the federal and county time served, and a correction is being addressed.)
JP Eva Reeve stated, "That, to me, is just throwing away money. That's an internal problem we can use to free up funds."
As budget planning continues, County Judge Mike Botelho stressed the need for strict management in 2005. He cautioned that with the many operational changes taking place next year, "Many things will be on the table in a one-time situation which could give a comfort level that is not real."
Reeve agreed, emphasizing that "bookkeeping will be vital."
JP Bill Goff stated that he believes the 90 percent ceiling may be too bold. Committee members did not disagree, and called for the known sales tax revenues in 2003 to be used as a starting point.
Said Botelho, "Fixed costs have yet to be determined, but certain things have to happen."
Work on budgeting from general revenues will be addressed at future meetings.