Budget includes no new sheriff’s deputies

Published 11:07 pm Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The county commission approved a budget Monday that will fund no new sheriff’s deputies in 2009.

It’s a decision Sheriff Chris Curry believes will force his department to cut back on services.

“There will simply be work not being done if we don’t get any more funding,” said Curry. “We cut back on services. We do less and less.”

The sheriff asked the commission this summer for 37 new employees, including deputies and corrections officers for the county jail.

Curry said the workers are needed to combat the county’s growth and years of underfunding.

“The people I’m asking for is the culmination of what I have asked for over the years,” said Curry.

However, commission members said they thought the budget was fair for everyone, especially in a belt-tightening year.

“We tried to keep the sheriff at hold despite all the cuts and reductions,” said Lindsey Allison, chairwoman of the commission’s finance committee.

Revenue from county sales and property taxes are down this year, prompting the commission to play it safe with the new budget.

“We have to continue to be cautious,” said Allison. “I think it would be careless if we didn’t take the approach we have.”

Shelby County has enjoyed an eight to 10 percent annual jump in revenue each year for more than a decade.

“That’s how we’ve been able to fund a lot of substantial projects,” said Allison. “Basically, all of that is on hold now.”

This year’s growth will likely fall flat around three percent, according to Finance Manager Butch Burbage.

Employee healthcare will also cost the county $500,000 more, a 10 percent jump.

To compensate, the commission cut funding for capital projects drastically — from $5 million this year to $2.7 million in 2009. The “no new employees” policy is also in effect in every department, not just the sheriff’s office.

Allison said the commission will look at revenue throughout the year and make changes if needed.

“We’ll watch it every month, but unless the economy changes substantially, I don’t know if we are in the position to amend anything,” Allison said.

The commissioner said the full effect of the economy’s downturn might not be felt into May, when property tax arrears are reported.

Still, Curry feels cuts could have been made elsewhere to better fund the sheriff’s office.

“They’ve got a very conservative and fearful projection of revenue. There is another budget approach that isn’t just about money … it is a needs approach,” said Curry. “You cut back on some things that are less important and focus on what is important. Hopefully, some priority will be given to public safety.”

In past years, the sheriff has asked for a six-month review of his budget, a process he said has been met with “marginal success.”

The commission did set aside $250,000 to help fund a few new county employees in a matching funds program.

Under the guidelines, if departments can come up with half the salary of a new employee, the commission will consider paying the other 50 percent.

Curry said he would need more information about the partnership before he considered it.

He said the sheriff’s office already pours money into the county’s operating fund via contracts with certain cities and towns to house prisoners and offer protection. The U.S. government also pays the sheriff’s office to house federal inmates.

“My concern is that we already have a flow of revenue going into the commission,” said Curry. “Now, they’re asking me to find an additional source of revenue?”

The new budget goes into effect Oct. 1.