Madison County commissioner Stanley Thomas and sheriff Kip Thomas — no relation — sparred June 2 over the sheriff’s 2013 budget, which was $209,000 in the red.
Commissioner Thomas noted that the sheriff’s office received raises in 2013 and that he was fine with the pay increases — so long as the sheriff stayed within his budget. He said he felt the sheriff should have notified the board last year that he was going to go over budget. Constitutional officers, such as the sheriff, have the authority to award raises as they see fit. The board of commissioners controls each department’s overall budget.
“You can give your people $20,000 raises as long as you are within your budget,” said the commissioner. “But I don’t remember you coming and saying you have a problem.”
Sheriff Thomas said his department has operated with a stable budget during his time in office. He said 2013 was an outlier, a year in which a number of uncontrollable circumstances, such as winter storms and higher water costs, hit at once. He also said his operating budget has been cut in recent years.
“When your operating budget is cut and cut and cut, it’s going to catch up with you,” said the sheriff. “It caught up with us last year.”
The sheriff said the BOC approved the raises last year.
“All that (the raises for the sheriff’s office) was approved by y’all (the BOC),” said the sheriff. “I don’t just hand out raises. I don’t just pull stuff out of the air.”
Chief deputy Shawn Burns urged the commissioners to visit the sheriff’s office and see what work is done there. He reminded the board that the jail’s “housing out” costs were $100,000 annually prior to Sheriff Thomas taking office, an expense that has been reduced to zero.
Commissioner Thomas said he was at a funeral when the raises were approved by the BOC last year. He told the sheriff that the BOC must answer to taxpayers regarding their tax rate — or mill rate. He said he took office when the county was over $3 million in the red and having to borrow money to stay afloat. He said he doesn’t want to go back to those days or raise taxes because departments can’t stay within their budget. Commissioner Thomas added that the sheriff could issue his own mill rate if needed.
Sheriff Thomas responded that “we all answer to the taxpayers.”
Commissioner Thomas was the lone district commissioner to address the sheriff over his budget June 2. The four other commissioners sat silent during the discussion.
The commissioner suggested the board hold off on approving any amendments related to the 2013 budget until after auditors provide the county finance committee with the 2013 county audit. The board agreed to postpone any budget amendments until after the committee reviews the audit. No other action was taken.