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County’s budget falls short

Funding requests face judgment from council

Facing rising inmate, staffing, maintenance and vehicle costs with less revenue is creating budget headaches for some local officials.

“I see what we need to do, and that’s why this time of year is so frustrating,” Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries said Monday.

Fries’ department has been given a budget of $22.5 million for 2014. Fries is asking the Allen County Council for an additional $400,000 for 18 new squad cars and another $283,524 for staffing, equipment and maintenance costs.

Not included in the sheriff’s requests is another $3.6 million which may be needed to comply with a new federal mandate and $232,000 for more security staffing.

PREA – the Prison Rape Elimination Act – was created in 2009 by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission to stem acts of sexual violence behind bars. In effect since May of 2012, Fries says the state has been given a grace period to comply, but in the past few years, states are receiving more pressure through the Department of Correction to meet the mandate.

The jail will be audited in the next few months to see what must be done to comply with the new law, Fries said.

“There is a possibility that two unfinished blocks at the jail will have to be completed at a cost of $2 million,” he said. Another $1.6 million would be required for extra staffing to meet new inmate-officer ratios, Fries said.

“The unfunded federal mandate could cost the county $5 million to begin with and $2 million every year after that,” Fries said, adding that he thinks it is unnecessary.

“We don’t have a large number of inmate sex crimes,” he said, “maybe one or two a year and most of those turn out to be unfounded.”

Fries has again asked for $400,000 for new squad cars, saying half of them should be replaced.

Many of the squad cars have logged more than 100,000 miles, and are considered a safety hazard, he said.

Fries said he should be replacing 13 to 15 cars a year and that has not happened because of budget cuts.

Other departments are frustrated, as well.

Allen Superior Court Judge Dan Heath has a budget of about $9 million for the Allen County Juvenile Center. Heath took over for departing Judge Stephen Sims earlier this year.

Health said he knew that the approximately $300,000 in extra appropriations requested to maintain the center’s staff of 162 was not likely to be granted by the council, but he wanted to show the council the true costs for operating the center.

“The council has cut the center’s budget by more than $1 million in the last few years,” Health said. “Judge Sims cut nine employees and was set to fire four more last year, but rather than do that, decided to keep an eye on the situation and furlough those employees, if needed,” Heath said.

Health said he too, has been carefully monitoring staffing and that, due to medical leaves and not filling positions when an employee leaves, the furloughs or terminations have not been necessary – so far.

“That could all change very quickly,” Heath said, “and I wanted the council to know that.”

In the aftermath of the tragic December shooting in Newtown, Conn., Heath and other county departments have requested extra security staffing at public entrances.

Since extra security falls to the sheriff’s department, Fries has recently met with Heath and others and has agreed to ask for an additional $232,000 to meet those security needs.

And while the budget includes a 2 percent raise for county employees in 2014, that doesn’t necessarily mean employees will take home more money, said County Auditor Tera Klutz.

Last year the council gave employees a 1 percent bonus and this year decided to replace it with a 2 percent raise, she said. And, beginning in 2012, county employees were asked to contribute 3 percent to the public employees’ retirement fund, phased in at 1 percent a year over three years.

“That means the 2 percent raise will be a wash,” Klutz said.

Nine of 31 departments preliminarily requested more budget funds and 14 departments have requested a total of about $966,000 for various capital projects.

So far, three have received notice that their requests have been approved, including the Wayne Assessor, $24,292; Building Department, $7,000; and Voter Registration, $10,000.

In addition to the Sheriff’s Department and Juvenile Center, four other requests will face more scrutiny at the next County Council meeting Aug. 15. Those include:

•911 Dispatch Center, $312,764

•County Extension office, $2,470

•Election Board – $125,705

•Superior Court – $309,886

If requests are denied, departments may file appeals, to be heard in September.

vsade@jg.net

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