Once again, one of the toughest budget decisions for county commissioners will be how much money to devote to law enforcement and the jail, as the sheriff asked commissioners to reverse course Tuesday night and give his office an additional $2.76 million for fiscal year 2012.
Other constitutional officers, including the tax commissioner, the probate and magistrate judge and the clerk of courts, presented their budgets Tuesday night, but all had modest changes.
The request for more public safety money is nothing new, but commissioners have not granted such requests the past two years as they had to make significant budget cuts. Revenues are expected to be down by $2.6 million next year to $43.7 million, so public safety will have to be cut unless commissioners vote for a tax increase. Total requests by all departments have totaled $50.94 million.
The current sheriff's office budget is $16.85 million, and the fiscal year 2012 request is $19.61 million.
On the law enforcement side (everything besides jail operations), Sheriff Ezell Brown is requesting an additional seven officers, although three would be school resource officers who are set to be laid off by the school system.
He's also predicting that gasoline will cost an additional $200,000 because of higher prices, and he wants to add 26 new cars and one van for inmate transportation at a total cost of $646,000. Equipment for the cars, new radios and an x-ray scanner would add $149,300.
The sheriff is requesting $1.26 million more for jail operations, including 10 additional detention officers at an average salary of $46,427.
Currently, 10 to 11 detention officers work each jail shift, but Detention Administrator Capt. Sammy Banks said he needs 14 to 18 per shift. The shortage has resulted in a 10 percent increase in assaults by prisoners on detention officers, Brown said.
Because of the increased jail population, the sheriff said he needs additional funds to pay for prisoner medical services ($84,000) and food ($48,000). Additional cleaning supplies and utility costs would add $180,000.
The jail also has capital project needs, including three new cars and one 50-passenger bus, as well as $97,000 in building renovations.
"(Last year) I made a comment about choices and equal chances. I'm here to tell you this afternoon, the choice we made last year has created obstacles at our office," Brown told the commissioners.
He said reduced staffing levels have led to increased overtime costs and increases to sick leave usage and worker's compensation. He asked the board to consider making efforts to restore county employee benefits, in an effort to begin the process of making them whole again.