Madison County is served by two state inmate crews, but that number will soon be reduced to one.
County commissioners agreed Monday to keep a work crew from Whitworth Detention Center that serves the county transfer station, but a second crew will be eliminated. The two crews cost the county $80,000.
Instead, the county will transfer $40,000 to the county jail budget. That money will be used to fund a position to oversee a local county inmate crew that will pick up roadside litter, perform cleaning services and handle other menial labor.
The sheriff’s office, which already has two inmate crews of six-to-eight men, proposed that the state detention crews be eliminated and that all inmate work be handled in-county through the sheriff’s office.
Commissioner Stanley Thomas said he received a letter from transfer station director Sandra Webb, saying that she has received good service from one of the female inmate crews at the transfer station and would prefer to keep that crew on site, instead of having them replaced by a local, male inmate crew. Commissioner Thomas noted that having local inmates at the facility could lead to unpleasant encounters for someone victimized locally by an inmate serving at the trash facility.
The board agreed to keep the state female crew at the transfer station. The county’s contract with the detention center allows either side to back out of the agreement with seven days written notice.
JUNE 18 MEETING
Madison County commissioners initially discussed letting the sheriff’s office take over the duties of inmate detail at a June 18 meeting with chief deputy Shawn Burns.
Burns asked the nearly $80,000 budgeted per year for the program to be placed under the sheriff’s control so the department can handle the service themselves.
“Our inmate population is growing, so I think we can handle it,” Burns said, adding that in the long run he believes it will save the county money.
Burns told commissioners the additional funds would allow them to add a third crew and an additional deputy this year, with plans to add another deputy and a vehicle in 2015.
Burns told commissioners that he feels the sheriff’s work crews are handling the majority of the work in the county now and he thinks all of it can be handled with another crew.
District 3 commissioner Mike Youngblood agreed, saying he has had more problems in the last year with Whitworth, noting that they have all female crews now. He added that he does not believe the county is getting the service (from Whitworth) that it was once getting.
Youngblood asked if he would be able to call and give a list of roads that need trashed picked up on, as he does now.
Burns assured him that he could.
“It’s just a matter of communication, call me (directly),” Burns said.
OVERTIME, BUDGET CONCERNS
Commissioner Thomas questioned Burns about overtime.
“I can’t promise there’ll be no overtime because a deputy sheriff is a deputy sheriff is a deputy sheriff,” he said.
Thomas said he thinks the budget amounts to about $82,000 for the year for the work detail. “Do ya’ll think you can work within that budget, without an enormous increase?” Thomas said.
“Yes,” Burns replied.
Burns told commissioners he had spotted one of the Whitworth prisoners sunbathing at the recreation department and that they had a video of another breaking into a vehicle behind the jail. He noted that the video was shot when men were still making up the Whitworth work crews.
“The sheriff’s had (our prisoners) doing all our stuff since then,” Burns said.
Thomas and Burns then got into a discussion over whether the sheriff’s office would be over budget again this year.
Burns told him that it would, pointing out that there was little left in the 2014 overtime budget though they were only halfway through the year and said it was due to the snowstorms earlier this year, when officers had to sleep at the county complex and jail.
Thomas pointed out that the new larger jail was going to require four more deputies to run it and that the sheriff’s office costs keep increasing.
“How are we gonna’ pay for it?” Commissioner Thomas asked.
“I understand that, but the sheriff’s office has to function,” Burns replied.
Thomas pointed out that the sheriff’s office has increased its employees from 54 in 2009 to 61 currently.
“That’s because the sheriff’s office was understaffed when we took over in 2009,” Burns said, adding that they could not be held accountable for anything that happened before that time.
Burns added that he knows operational expenses will be a big part of the jail when it is expanded and that they are working to try to implement cost-cutting measures such as electricity saving lighting fixtures, water savers, etc.
Thomas also questioned Burns on the amount being spent for ammunition, saying that only $2,000 was budgeted but that $8,000 plus was spent last year.
“Have you bought any ammo lately?” Burns said. “Ammo has almost doubled since 2009.” He said that the sheriff’s office does use seized funds for some of this expense, and pointed out that multiple rounds are needed for training purposes.
Thomas said that in last year’s budget the sheriff’s office was 50 percent over and that of the 41 line items in the jail budget, 50 percent of those were over budget.
“When we run out (of money) we’ll have to go to the taxpayers (for more) and we haven’t done that in a long time,” Thomas said.
Burns said it was easy to say the sheriff’s office and jail are over budget until it is broken down and looked at to see where the increases are, pointing out that food increased $14,000.
“We want to work with you guys, communication has not been a problem with the chairman and (sheriff’s office) and it should not be a problem between us and one commissioner,” Burns said, adding that he feels the sheriff’s office was unfairly singled out at a recent meeting.
“You were singled out because you were $215,000 over budget,” Thomas replied.
Burns pointed out that Thomas was also over budget on his personal expenses. Thomas replied that every penny of the $384 that he was over budget was spent on education, adding that he does not charge the county for transportation, a cell phone or other expenses.
Chairman Anthony Dove calmed the two down saying that everything in a budget is subjective.
“When we do a budget we’re looking out about a year and a half,” he said. “We need to get down to looking at actual expenses and being realistic about what it’s actually gonna’ cost.”
Burns said that 2013 was the first year the sheriff’s budget has been out of line and that it will be the same way this year due to the snowstorms.
“We have $6,663 left out of $40,000 budgeted for overtime,” he said. “We need the lines of communication to be open both ways.”
Burns told commissioners that the last thing the sheriff’s office wants to do is to come before them and argue.
“It does not make us look good, the BOC or the county look good,” he said. “We just want to know the rules before we play the game…the last thing we want to read is ‘sheriff’s office, BOC spar over budget.’”
All three of the other commissioners (commissioner Pete Bond was absent) sat silent during the exchange.
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