County committees give OK to budget transfers after lengthy discussion

An appropriation ordinance to transfer money from various line items within the sheriff’s department budget to other line items sparked a discussion of nearly 30 minutes by committees of the Jefferson County Quorum Court before it was finally approved Tuesday.

The discussion was fueled by the fact that the proposal listed only line item numbers, with no breakdown on what the items actually were.

“When I get things like this with just numbers, it means nothing to me,” Justice of the Peace Mandy Alford said of the proposed ordinance.

Public Safety and Emergency Services Committee Chairman Herman Ginger, whose committee was charged with considering the proposed ordinance, said the “first thing I had to do was interpret this.”

Another member of the county’s legislative body, Dr. Conley Byrd, described the attempt to understand the various line items and numbers used in the budgets and required by the state as “voodoo magic.

“My job is to understand these budgets and try to get a handle on them but if somebody can’t explain it to me, how can I explain it to my constituents?” Byrd said.

One section of the ordinance would transfer $98,482.52 from county general salaries and benefits to fuel and lubricants and a second section would transfer $50,219.93 from machinery and equipment to miscellaneous, a category that Sheriff Gerald Robinson said covers various bills the department has to pay but which are not included in the list of line items in the budget.

“With these new budgets, you can go to the county clerk’s office and they can create line items to put into the budget for those bills,” Ginger said. “We get a little uncomfortable when we see a $50,000 miscellaneous request.”

The proposed ordinance also would transfer $157,200 from the county general salaries and benefits account to the Public Safety salary and benefits account.

Ginger said the sheriff’s department has two separate budgets, with some deputies and employees being paid from county general money and others being paid from proceeds from the Public Safety Sales Tax.

Justice of the Peace Ted Harden questioned Robinson about the roughly $250,000 that would be moved from the county general salaries and benefits account, asking if the department is being overfunded.

“No, we need those slots,” Robinson said, explaining that the department, which also includes the adult detention center and the juvenile justice center, has a high turnover and while efforts are made to fill vacant positions, there are often unfilled positions.

“We might hire 10 people (for the jail) and within three months, five of them might be gone,” Robinson said. “Some people decide that they’re not cut out for the job, or we have to terminate them for one reason or another.”

After the lengthy discussion, Justice of the Peace Reginald Adams said “at the end of the day, they have this money,” and Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin II said “as long as he has it, let him do what he needs to do with it.”

A second appropriation ordinance for $210,000 for continued construction at the new Sheriff’s Office next to the jail had much smoother sailing, being recommended for approval with no discussion.

The additional funds came from a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice and reflect proceeds from money seizures during joint investigations between federal and county authorities.

Under the federal program, the money may be used for a variety of things, including renovation or acquisition of physical space used by the department.

The county’s legislative body also recommended that an ordinance setting the tax rates for county taxes, municipal taxes and school taxes for 2014 be approved when the full court meets next week. The ordinance is required by state law.

In other matters, the following appropriation ordinances were recommended for approval with no discussion:

• A $105,000 appropriation for the Jefferson County Road Department with the funds coming from Arkansas State Highway Tax money.

• A $10,000 supplemental appropriation for the Jefferson County Election Commission to cover expenses for the rest of the year. The funds will come from transferring $10,000 in unspent payroll funds for election workers.

• A $16,032 appropriation for the Sixth Division of Circuit Court (Juvenile Court) with the funds coming from a variety of line items.

• A $4,600 appropriation ordinance for the Jefferson County Circuit Clerk’s Office for maintenance and operation for the rest of the year with the funds coming from a transfer from the office’s salary account.