MIAMI – In the latest development in the ongoing saga concerning Ottawa County Sheriff Jeremy Floyd’s budget, a large crowd was present during the regular commissioners’ meeting on Monday to voice concerns.
This stems from the continuing dispute about the funding the sheriff receives, with Floyd saying his office isn’t properly funded and has been handed budget cuts in the amount of $400,000 and the commissioners saying the sheriff’s budget has more county funding this year than ever before.
Things came to a head after the commissioners decided during the previous week’s meeting to hold the sheriff personally responsible for any future budget overages and the sheriff voiced his concerns in the press and on social media, saying he fears for the public’s safety because he only has one deputy per shift to cover the entire county and a total of only four full-time deputies and nine reserve volunteer deputies.
After the meeting Monday, commissioner Russell Earls said, “Obviously there were a lot of questions asked about the budget. I’m waiting on exact figures from the county’s CPA, but I believe in the last five years we have continued to increase funding out of the county general budget into the sheriff’s budget.
“As far back as when the previous sheriff was in office four or five years ago and asking for somewhere in excess of $100,000 for replacement of the interior locks on the jail, air-conditioning issues, and some software, we funded that. Then two years ago we funded an additional $150,000 for a roof for the jail, but we did not put it in a specified account for the roof, so it got spent on others things, like salaries,” Earls said.
“Then this current fiscal year we put $245,000 in for the roof again. I recently spent three or four weeks up on the roof with a contractor and we got all the leaks stopped for about $7,500. We still need to replace the entire roof system, but in light of budget failures again, there’s just too much being spent, so we aren’t going to be able to put the roof on again this year. About $160,000 of that $245,000 allotted for the roof has been spent elsewhere.
“I tried to explain during the meeting Monday that, in 1997 when the jail was built, half a penny of the full penny sales tax approved was retained to operate the jail and the field division. Currently that’s bringing in about $1.2 million a year. We have to send those dollars to the sheriff’s office and cannot divert them anywhere else. So since that sales tax was put into place they have been getting every bit of that money as well as what county general kicks in. This current year we have kicked in, I think, about $475,000,” Earls continued.
“There has been talk about us having cut the sheriff’s budget by $400,000. Here’s how that works in a hypothetical situation. In his estimate of needs he asked for $2 million. When you look at what he brought in from cash funds, which includes the commissary, the Department of Corrections (DOC) for prisoners, sheriff’s service fees, and a number of different accounts that he raises money in, it was about $400,000. We don’t handle those dollars. He generates them and deposits them with the county treasurer and they go right into his account.”
Earls went on to say, “Where I’m going with that is if he asks for $2 million and we look at what those funds brought in the last year, approximately $400,000. Then we fund him $1.6 million and the other $400,000 funds his office brings in, making the total of $2 million that he requested. That’s the way it’s always been done, certainly since I’ve been here – 21 years.
“In essence he can say his budget was cut by $400,000, but that’s not the case. If he asks for $2 million we fund him $1.6 million with the rest - $400,000 - coming in from the funds he raises. That makes the $2 million he needs. We did it with all previous sheriffs and everybody knows how it works,” Earls said.
“We have never cut the sheriff’s budget, as I said in the open meeting. We continue to fund it at a higher rate each year; we continue to put in for capital improvements, whether it’s a boiler or the roof, locks, air-conditioners, or software and hardware. It just comes down to you have to live within your means - whatever is available to you. We have all been doing that forever in county government. We do it in the roads district. The story is not unique to the sheriff’s office. There are billions of dollars’ worth of need across this state, but we only get a certain amount of money. So we just rebuild roads and bridges as we can. We don’t overspend,” Earls went on to say.
“Folks tend to forget that in 1997 they wanted a strong sheriff’s department, so they approved the dedication of half a penny sales tax to go strictly to the sheriff’s office and the jail and that generates between $1.2 and $1.3 million each year. Every penny of that goes to the sheriff and the jail. So we’ve got a $2.7 million budget for the sheriff’s department. We’ve also got a large tribal police presence and we’ve got nine reserve deputies to patrol our roads that don’t draw any money.
“I was thrilled folks showed up and asked questions. And they got answers. Whether they liked the answers or not, they were factual and we can back up everything that was said. And I was compelled to tell folks that we have funded the sheriff’s office and the jail more each year and even funded it at a historical rate this fiscal year.
Earls ended by saying, “Right now we are waiting on the results of the investigative audit being done on the sheriff’s office by the state to see how we should proceed.”
The audit was asked for and approved after the sheriff’s budget issues began in earnest and it was determined that Floyd overspent his 2017/2018 fiscal year budget by approximately $380,000.
District Attorney (DA) Kenny Wright said, “I think this is a mole hill being made into a mountain. As far as the sheriff coming in on his budget, he is pretty close. He’s not exactly there, but he has been making steady improvement. There’s a little bit of wiggle room built into the budget intentionally, and then there’s some of it that has turned out to provide a little more wiggle room that we didn’t expect.
“For example, there was $250,000 line itemed for the roof. But since the patch job that worked only cost approximately $10,000, the commissioners have approved the rest of that money to meet other expenses. Right now I think there’s $150,000 or so left in that account. If the sheriff, despite his best efforts, winds up $10 or $20,000 over on a particular month, at the very least there’s a little money to help cover that, which is part of the difficulty the sheriff had with this year’s budget. With having certain things line itemed by the excise board it removed his discretion on how to spend that money. So when he says his payroll has been reduced by $400,000, it’s not that his overall appropriations have been reduced. He’s got essentially the same appropriations, it’s just the excise board and commissioners have said there are parts of this that need to be spent in certain ways. That’s been part of the historical problem. In the past some of the dollars didn’t get spent as appropriated. So that was the idea with putting those line items on there. It caused the sheriff some additional problems, but today it has served to keep him from sinking because of the payroll issues,” Wright said.
One of the things the DA said he wished could have been communicated better at the meeting concerned two employees that were hired recently and but not paid because the sheriff had gone over his payroll budget the previous month. During Monday’s meeting, the board actually approved a transfer of appropriations to get those two paid. Wright said he wished that could have been pointed out because that was something the people were interested in. Because the meeting ran long a lot of those in attendance weren’t able to stay, so they weren’t there to hear that the commissioners approved a transfer of appropriations to get the employees paid. That transfer happened because Floyd requested the transfer in writing and had it placed on the meeting agenda. It hadn’t happened previously because the proper paperwork hadn’t been filed to get those people paid. The sheriff followed up, got the right paperwork done and the commissioners took care of it.
“As far as the budget is concerned, it will be fine unless something goes completely and unexpectedly off the rails. I think the sheriff is in pretty good shape with his budget. It’s not perfect and there’s still work to be done, but there’s plenty of time to get everything in line before the end of this fiscal year June 30,” Wright said.