County residents saw yet another reason last week why their elected officials have such difficulty balancing budgets.
Sheriff Ken Fries asked the Allen County Council for an additional $279,650 in operating expenses for 2013 plus $400,000 more for new squad cars. We have cut and cut. There is no fat; there is no fluff, he told the council. It borders on negligence not to spend the money.
Yet at the very same meeting, Fries also wanted an immediate 3.3 percent raise for Chief Deputy Dave Gladieux, part of which would be retroactive to July 1, 2011. That would have raised his pay to nearly $96,000 – and he is already one of the highest-paid county employees, earning more than most elected county officials and department heads.
Little wonder that the council denied – at least preliminarily – his request, along with a few other major spending increases from other officials.
The council, unlike Congress, must pass a balanced budget, and that means keeping a tight rein on spending.
But Fries also must pay for inmates food and for adequate staffing at the jail. His officers must have working, reliable patrol cars.
Council members are trying to balance the budget without dipping into the rainy day fund, which is expected to total about $12.5 million at years end. The council is commended for attempting to keep a hard line on spending but must also justify carrying a rainy day fund of nearly 15 percent of the annual general fund budget. Council members should also explain why the county cannot afford new police cars but was able to spend $1.7 million to buy property for future business development.
For his part, Fries needs to realize that giving raises to the highest-paid workers is not a priority for the council, and discussing his frugality after seeking such a raise doesnt help his credibility with the council. And the sheriff – along with other departments – should have a replacement schedule for vehicles. Barring emergencies, council members should know about how much is needed for vehicle replacement for several years into the future.
Council members will take final action on the budget in October. As they strive to balance holding the line on spending with adequately financing essential services, they must understand that running the jail and putting sheriffs deputies on the streets are fundamental costs they must incur.