Sheriff’s Budget

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Miss. Department of Corrections prisoner, who is also a trusty at the Panola County jail, mows the grass last week outside the grounds of the sheriff’s department and county airport. The cost and reimbursement for jail inmates is among several issues under way by county officials. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

Showdown looms over sheriff’s budget

Negotiated budget cuts at sheriff’s department*
•   Office supplies:
    From $15,000 (proposed)
    to same, $10,000
•   Credit card travel:
    From $20,000 (proposed)
    to same, $10,000
•   Tires: From $20,000
    (proposed) to $18,000
•   Training: From $7,000
    (proposed) to same, $5,000
Requested increases in 2012*
•   Medical fees:
    $70,000 (from $60,000)
•   Feeding prisoners:
    $160,000 (from $150,000)
•   Jail office supplies:
    $8,500 (from $8,000)
•   Machine maintenance:
    $10,000 (from $6,000)
•   Janitorial supplies:
    $40,000 (from $36,000)
•   Repair to vehicles:
    $23,000 (from $20,000)
•   Telephones:
    $28,000 (from $25,000)
*Partial list of line items under discussion

By Billy Davis

Panola County’s administrator and Sheriff Otis Griffin are set to face off tomorrow, again, over the sheriff’s department’s proposed budget increases.  

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The coming encounter amounts to round three this month following testy negotiations on August 9 and August 17 at the county courthouse in Batesville.

Griffin has approximately  $4.8 million this year to operate patrol and criminal investigations, the jail and the narcotics task force — all maintained in three separate budget accounts.

He was requesting an increase of $104,514, though that request has been cut by approximately $70,000 according to sheriff’s spokesman Robbie Haley.

The sheriff’s department has the largest annual budget in Panola County government, followed closely by the road department, and supervisors are known to scrutinize those two departments more than others during budget meetings.

Supervisors are also eyeing worrisome revenue projections that show Panola County government has yet to recover from the sluggish economy, now in its fourth year.     

At last week’s budget meeting, the face-off began when Griffin announced he had made budget cuts following the August 9 sit-down with supervisors and County Administrator Kelley Magee.

Any cuts to the sheriff’s department budget will likely hurt the community, he said, because “when the economy is down, crime is up.”

The sheriff also wished aloud that he could share crime statistics with Magee and supervisors to demonstrate the busyness of the sheriff’s department. A seven-month tally of felonies and misdemeanor crimes was found minutes later and shared with county officials.   

Griffin and supervisors then reviewed the budgets for patrol and for jail operations, which allowed the sheriff to point out cuts that had been made in recent days.

Proposed cuts included dropping credit card travel from $20,000 to $10,000 and keep schooling and training at $5,000; it had been increased to $7,000.

Office supplies would remain at $10,000 after asking for a $5,000 increase. “We will buy the cheapest of the cheap,” said Haley.

The sheriff’s department had budgeted $205,000 for fuel while the proposed budget raised that to $250,000.

“I don’t know who moved it to $250,000,” Griffin said.

To trim his budget, Griffin suggested dropping that to $210,000 when Magee — who had apparently moved the amount herself — pointed out that the sheriff’s department had spent approximately $232,000 on fuel by August 1.

In the jail budget, jail administrator Bobby Meek explained budget increases for building supplies and medicines/drug supplies which both showed little spent during the fiscal year.

Only $927 had been spent in building supplies, which showed a current and proposed budget of $10,000.

The jail had spent $14,834 for medicines and drug supplies from a $35,000 budget, also set to remain the same for the new fiscal year.

Meek has already defended the planned purchase of a new van to transport federal prisoners, pointing out that the sheriff’s department must follow federal safety guidelines to transport them.

The jail budget shows $25,000 budgeted to replace a 1996 van being used for transport.

Meek noted that the air conditioning quit recently when the van was transporting prisoners to Memphis.

Meek also disclosed that he and Magee have disagreed over spending $8,000 next year for new lawn mowers.

Magee has suggested cutting that figure while Meek resisted, saying inmates are using worn-out riding mowers. He plans to replace them with at least one zero-turn mower next year, he said.  

Haley pointed out that grass cutting at the county courthouses in Batesville and Sardis comes out of the fuel budget at the sheriff’s department.

After Griffin and Meek reported their updated budgets, Supervisor Gary Thompson asked if keeping state and federal prisoners is offsetting their costs.

Magee said approximately $308,000 has been budgeted to house, feed and clothe prisoners next year.

The jail receives approximately $22,000 a month from the state and federal governments as reimbursement, plus monies from local municipalities, Meek said.

Griffin said last year that  the jail expected to receive  as many as 25 federal inmates  at first and reach as many as 100 inmates over time.

The sheriff also told supervisors Panola County stood to receive $58 per day per inmate, though he later told The Panolian the reimbursement would be $35 per day.

 The issue of inmate costs  — and the reimbursements that flow to the county — has surfaced in recent weeks at budget meetings, where the number of federal inmates was said to be from 6 to 10.

More prisoners could be coming from West Tennessee, Haley also reported.

After Thompson asked about inmate costs, Supervisor Kelly Morris asked Griffin,  “So crime is up?”

“Yeah, we’re making a whole lot of arrests,” Griffin replied.

“So why are the fees and penalties down?” Morris asked, referring to an earlier budget report, from Panola County Justice Court, that showed fines had declined.

“Because the economy is down,” Griffin replied. “Nobody has money to pay fees.”

As she has done in the past, Magee also jumped in with a list of suggestions for trimming the sheriff’s department budget. Some of them had been mentioned before, such as cutting cell phone users or using forfeited funds to pay for their usage.

She has also suggested that part-time employees drive to work in their personal vehicles, which saves on fuel and routine maintenance.   

Magee also noted last week that the sheriff’s department stands to save approximately $90,000 if Griffin does not fill three job slots.

She also suggested that the sheriff’s department could create revenue by selling some automobiles from its 40-vehicle fleet. A “Proposed Cuts” sheet, which Magee prepared for the budget meeting, claims the department can operate with 31 automobiles.

“You can put some vehicles in the auction, like the Audi,” she told Griffin.

“I’m not going to sell it right now,” Griffin said. “It was seized off the interstate. It was not bought with department funds.”

At one point Griffin repeated his observation that crime will increase if his budget is hampered, saying Panola County is in danger of “cutting off our nose.”

Magee responded that the county government is facing another tight year in 2012. “You either cut it now or you cut it more next year, Otis,” she said.

“When the money’s not coming in, you’ve got to cut and make it balance,” Morris agreed.

“It’s not only you. It’s every department,” he told the sheriff.

The county administrator noted that Griffin had allowed a part-time jailer, who works a weekend shift, to use a patrol car.

“Why does a weekend jailer have a car?” she asked rhetorically.

The county administrator also questioned why Griffin plans to move a Crime Stoppers secretary into a deputy’s slot, when supervisors turned down Griffin’s request for the secretary slot in February.

“You’re creating a secretary’s position,” she said.  

Griffin, meanwhile, complained that the Solid Waste budget, which Magee oversees as administrator, is getting bigger “while everybody else has to watch theirs.”

Panola County Solid Waste oversees residential and commercial trash pickup throughout the county.

A spokesman for Solid Waste said the department’s  $1.6 million budget is set to increase $28,171 in 2012.

The new proposed budget includes a $60,000 increase for fuel but the budget was trimmed to offset that cost, according to clerk Jennifer Jackson.

Solid Waste depends on residential and commercial fees to operate and does not use taxpayers’ money from the general fund, Jackson said.

The planned Wednesday budget meeting is set for 3 p.m. in the county boardroom in Batesville.