The Sweetwater County Commissioners expressed concern today over a projected budget shortfall within the Sweetwater County Sheriffâ€™s Office.
Chairman Reid West told the Commissioners that the Sweetwater County Sheriffâ€™s Office is projected to go over the payroll budget by $291,000 this fiscal year. Sheriff Mike Lowell issued a statement disputing the $291,000 figure. Click here to see his statement.Â
West acknowledged about $103,000 of the overage can be attributed to five new positions approved by the Commissioners and already planned for a budget amendment. He said an additional $188,000 in overage remains. West did not mention the holiday bonus referenced in Sheriff Lowell’s statement.
â€œIt appears that some of it is due to paying out accrued comp time and over on overtime, and itâ€™s unclear why he has not done whatâ€™s primarily been done in the past with giving them comp time instead of paying overtime and why the comp time was paid out,â€ said West.
West said the overall budget for the Sheriffâ€™s Office is close to this yearâ€™s budgeted amount, partly because Sheriff Lowell hasnâ€™t spent some of the capital budget.
â€œHowever, you canâ€™t underspend capital and use that money to overspend payroll,â€ said West. â€œOverall, you have to stay within your payroll budget, your operating budget, your capital budget, and so forth.â€
Commissioner John Kolb said he also believed that the budget required the Sheriffâ€™s Office to stay with certain categories like payroll, capital and operating budgets. He said the flexibility within the payroll budget limited itself to how much would be paid to patrol versus the amount paid to detention.
â€œWhen it comes to a policy change andâ€”say accruals or comp timeâ€”that affects the budget. It seems that we should have a conversation about the Countyâ€™s policy when it comes to this,â€ said Kolb. â€œSo we wouldnâ€™t just allow a department head to make a change that would affect their budget in a negative way, and we would have to deal with the consequences when we werenâ€™t part of that decision.â€
Kolb noted that the Commission has made budget amendments for emergencies and unforeseen circumstances, Â but said payroll issues such as this are not unforeseen.
â€œI think that once the Sheriff has agreed to the budget, I think he has an obligation to keep that budget,â€ said Commissioner Wally Johnson.
Johnson asked County Attorney Daniel Erramouspe what the ramifications can be for a department which doesnâ€™t meet its budgetary obligations.
Erramouspe said this is an issue which he is currently looking into and he could not offer a legal opinion at this time. He said he would like to meet with Sheriff Mike Lowell to discuss the situation and see what options are present.
Commissioner Wendling said he would like to make sure there is not an existing policy or guideline for this topic before moving forward with any action.
Commissioner Van Matre said he hopes the options presented by legal advice were not too limiting and could allow some wiggle room. He said he looks forward to finding out what the Commissioners can do in the current situation.
Commissioner West questioned if the Commissioners can continue writing checks to go toward payroll if no budget amendment is made before the funds are spent.
â€œI think it raises some other questions. You know, we appropriated x dollars. So, what happens when itâ€™s been used up, itâ€™s expended?â€ asked West. â€œWhat happens? I would think, unless itâ€™s been amended, thereâ€™s no more checks being written against that.â€
Commissioner Kolb said there are employees who depend on the payroll checks. He said itâ€™s unfortunate that the Commissioners are â€œbacked into a cornerâ€ when this kind of thing happens.
â€œAny changes that we make mid-stream that affects the ability to continue running for a fiscal year is a very big deal,â€ said Kolb.
Chairman West requested that the projected budget shortfall at the Sweetwater County Sheriffâ€™s Office be added to the agenda for the next meeting. That meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 17th in the Commissioners Chambers at the Sweetwater County Courthouse in Green River.