A plan to move $210,000 received from a federal program to cover additional work on a new building for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was changed Tuesday night during a meeting of the county’s Quorum Court.
Instead of the $210,000, Sheriff Gerald Robinson will be receiving $32,591.36, the amount the sheriff said he needed to cover outstanding bills on the facility.
Justice of the Peace Dr. Conley Byrd made the motion to amend the transfer after discussion revealed that County Judge Dutch King signed an emergency court order last Friday for $43,000 to ensure that employees of the Juvenile Detention Center get their paychecks on time this Friday.
“That money just covered Nov. 15,” Finance Committee Chairman Herman Ginger said. “We’re not talking about Nov. 30, or Dec. 15, or Dec. 31, or Jan. 15 or Jan. 31 when we start to get our tax money in.”
Byrd initially proposed taking the entire $210,000 and putting it into salaries for employees, then changed the motion to reflect the money Robinson said is currently owed.
“Where we use the rest of the money can be decided at a later meeting,” Byrd said.
Breaking procedure, the county’s legislative body allowed Robinson to speak and he quickly let the group know that the federal money could only be used for certain things. He noted that two committees of the court agreed last week to let the full amount go into the construction fund.
“If that money is used for anything other than the federal guidelines, somebody is going to jail,” Robinson said.
“The grant does allow the money to be used for salaries but it’s not limited to salaries,” Justice of the Peace Ted Harden said. “All we’re doing is covering the bills that are owed and trying to work around until we can get a grip on things.”
“Nobody is taking anything away from the sheriff’s office,” Byrd said. “All we’re doing is making sure we can take care of the bills and salaries (of employees).”
After the discussion, 11 members of the court approved the amended motion, with Justice of the Peace Edward Spears casting the only no vote. Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin II, who was shot Sunday morning, was not present and County Judge Dutch King said he had spoken to Franklin’s mother earlier in the day Tuesday.
“He was going to go into surgery but she said he was doing well and I told her we’re all praying for him to be OK and come back to work with us,” King said.
After the regular meeting, a special hearing on the 2014 budget was held, with the emphasis on the Public Safety and Detention Facilities Maintenance and Operations Sales Taxes.
To the delight of a standing-room-only crowd, most of them volunteer firefighters from throughout the county, Ginger, and later King said “we’re not going to touch your money.”
The county’s volunteer fire departments receive $200,000 annually from the Public Safety Sales Tax, with those funds split between the various departments.
Figures provided by County Treasurer Elizabeth Rinchuso showed that since 2008, the beginning balances for County General, the Public Safety Sales Tax and the Detention Facilities Sales Tax have steadily declined, with Rinchuso saying that this year, County General started the year with half as much money as was available in 2008.
“We have spent more money that we have taken in,” Ginger said. “The judge had to do an emergency order to cover salaries for the juvenile justice center because the money was not there.
“The sheriff gets upset with me because my job is to look out for the whole county,” Ginger said. “I’m going to look out for the whole county and the sheriff’s office is the only one who is building a new building.”
King said that since 2007, the juvenile center has lost $1.8 million.
“That’s about $300,000 a year,” he said. “We’ve had to give them money to keep the doors open above what was in their budget and that cannot continue. That’s something that’s got to be corrected now.”
Justice of the Peace Mandy Alford wanted to know what the sheriff was doing to try and find detainees for the juvenile center, and was told to ask Robinson that question.”
“I can’t,” she said. “He left.”
King said he had talked to county judges from 10 counties about the possibility of bringing juvenile prisoners to Pine Bluff to be housed.
“We’ve averaged 30 to 35 and we really need about 50,” King said. “We’ve even had a company from out of state look at the juvenile center with the idea of taking it over, paying us a fee, and them paying the expenses.”
King said that was one option, and county officials are looking at others as well.
On another subject, King said Robinson was very vocal in his desire to see funding for Jefferson County District Court from the Public Safety Sales Tax eliminated.
“We’re looking at a plan two or three years down the road to get them out of the Public Safety Sales Tax and put all the money back into public safety,” King said.
In addition to funding for the district court and rural fire protection, Public Safety Sales Tax money is allocated to the sheriff’s department and the juvenile detention center.
Another meeting on the budget is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, with King expected to outline proposals on where to cut the budget to cover an anticipated revenue shortfall.
“We’re working to find things that won’t affect people,” King said.