Quorum Court approves ordinance to pay jail employees

Despite what some Jefferson County Justices of the Peace called “a bad taste in their mouths,” the county’s Quorum Court on Tuesday approved an ordinance to transfer money from the Public Safety Sales Tax fund to the budgets of the adult jail and juvenile detention center so that the employees there can get their final paychecks of the year.

Both facilities have exceeded the money appropriated to them for salaries and benefits this year, making the emergency meeting Tuesday necessary to comply with state law.

“They exceeded their appropriations in a line item budget and that’s against the law,” Finance Committee Chairman Dr. Herman Ginger said. “To stay legal, the Quorum Court has to supplement those appropriations. We have to have a cleanup so people can get paid. It’s Christmas.”

The appropriation approved by an 11-1 vote will transfer $128,000 to the adult jail fund, and increase the total budget for that facility by $370,000, which reflects the amount already spent, as well as the money necessary to make the payroll at the end of the year.

For the juvenile detention center, $472,000 will be added to its 2013 budget which includes the amount overspent as well as money for payroll at the end of the year.

County Judge Dutch King said that despite Sheriff Gerald Robinson’s contention that the sheriff’s department received only a nine-month budget, the department budget was funded for a full 12 months. King said that like every other county agency and department, that budget was cut from what the agency requested.

When the department came back to the Quorum Court later in the year asking for additional funds, that request was turned down.

“We didn’t have it,” Ginger said.

County officials first learned of the overspending last week when King had to issue an emergency order transferring money into the two accounts so that the employees of the jail and juvenile center could get their paychecks.

The sheriff’s department had sent the check requests to the county clerk’s office, which prepared the checks and sent them to County Treasurer Elizabeth Rinchuso, who discovered there was no money in the appropriation to cover those checks.

“I deal in cash and if you don’t have cash, I can’t sign the checks,” Rinchuso said.

Justice of the Peace Ted Harden said and it is up to the department heads to ensure that they live within their budgets.

Rinchuso said that by taking the money to cover end-of-the-year salaries out of the Public Safe Sales Tax Fund, the fund will have a balance of about $12,000 left in it for the rest of the year. While another $190,000 is expected to be received at the end of this month, much of that money will be needed to cover salaries and benefits for four different agencies in mid-January.

“For four months we’ve been saying these budgets are not suggestions,” Ginger said.

“We’re living paycheck to paycheck with the Public Safety Sales Tax and Detention Facilities Maintenance and Operations Tax,” Rinchuso said.

Justice of the Peace Alfred Spears said he had heard that some of the tax money was “going where it was not supposed to,” referring to a statement Robinson made last week that the Jefferson County District Court was getting some funds from both the Public Safety Sales Tax and Detention Facilities Maintenance and Operations Tax.

Robinson contended that the money from the Detention Facilities Maintenance and Operations Tax was “supposed to be a one-time deal” but Ginger and Daniel Marks, the legislative assistant to King, disagreed.

“There’s no mention of there being a sunset clause or a one-time deal in the ordinances that authorized that money going to the court,” Marks said.

“There’s nothing that says it was a one-time deal and if it ain’t written down, it ain’t happening,” Ginger said.

When the final vote came, only Justice of the Peace Dr. Conley Byrd said no.

“I’m in favor of people getting paid but I don’t see that we’re making any headway for next year,” Byrd said. “I look for us to have a crisis on a monthly basis.”

Byrd’s viewpoint was shared by Pine Bluff businessman Bob Abbott.

“Somebody’s not living within their budget and all you’re doing is propping somebody up,” Abbott said. “Nothing is being done about it.”

Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin III was absent Tuesday night.