The squabble over the 2013 budgets for the adult jail, juvenile detention center and public safety sales tax heated up again Friday when Justice of the Peace Herman Ginger, chairman of the Quorum Court’s Public Safety/Emergency Services Committee, responded to a letter addressed to him by Sheriff Gerald Robinson.
In that letter, Robinson accused the Quorum Court of failing to ensure adequate funding of some departments and said the sheriff’s office and the facilities it operates, the adult jail and juvenile detention center “are bearing the burden of the county’s shortfalls.”
In his response, Ginger said, “I cannot believe your unmitigated gall to make statements pertaining to the Quorum Court’s mistreatment of the vital services of public safety when you have never been refused anything, vehicles, personnel or equipment.
“The letter you sent to me makes me wonder of your commitment to the duties of your office and the citizens of Jefferson County,” Ginger said. “it seems you are more interested in building a Sheriff’s Office and buying new cars than ensuring the job security of your employees.”
Contacted Friday afternoon, Robinson said he had not seen the letter as yet, but was expecting to receive a copy of it later that night. He said he wanted to reserve any comments until he had an opportunity to review the letter over the weekend and prepare a proper response.
Regarding the new sheriff’s building under construction adjacent to the adult jail, Ginger said he “had great reservations about building the new Sheriff’s Office. I extended a friendly hand to move forward with your request even though I had grave reservations about the county’s ability to fund it.”
The total projected cost for the new building is $3.2 million. It will initially house the department’s Patrol and Criminal Investigation Divisions (which are currently housed in two buildings in the 100 block of Main Street). As additional money is available, the other divisions of the department will move from the courthouse into the new building.
Ginger said the sheriff’s department bought five new Dodge Chargers this month at a cost of more than $115,000 and last year, traded a 2009 Chrysler 300 for a 2012 Chrysler 300.
“The purchase of this $32,115 vehicle required a formal bid process according to the county purchasing guidelines which you chose to ignore, requiring the issue of an Emergency Court Order to bypass these formal guidelines,” Ginger said. “If you are so concerned over the financial ability to retail employees, why are you continuing to engage in what cannot be considered anything other than reckless fiscal behavior.”
Ginger also said that the letter from Robinson was given to The Commercial before it was delivered to him, and he first learned about it after a call from a Commercial reporter.
“This is nothing more than a ploy to embarrass me and shows a lack of professional courtesy,” Ginger said.
The letter from Ginger also mentioned two special meetings of the Finance Committee of the Quorum Court where the issue of a projected shortfall in county revenue was discussed, and said Robinson “did not offer any meaningful contributions” to dealing with the shortfall.
“You have yet to submit any amended budgets or remedies other than to point fingers,” Ginger said.
Ginger said Robinson was correct when he said that the sheriff’s office had remained within its budgets, but said expenditures far exceeded revenue from the juvenile detention center.
“In the past, it has been the fault of the Quorum Court for appropriating more monies than you had available revenues,” Ginger said in the letter. “Sales Tax money would be amply available if we had not transferred over $2.5 million from 2005 to 2012 to compensate for the revenue shortfall in the Juvenile Justice Center.”
Regarding Robinson’s statement that the sheriff’s office has the ability to generate “quite a bit of revenue,” and listed several areas, Ginger said said during the meetings in January and February, two areas were identified, a juvenile pay-for-stay which was determined to be legally questionable, and a new sales tax.
“At no point did the Quorum Court ever suggest you lay off employees,” Ginger said in the letter. “We simply informed you of the financial parameters in which you are required to operate.”
Ginger also said that “in your eight years as sheriff, you have not one time complained about the budget.
“You have been oblivious to the fact that the Juvenile Justice Center has been on a road of fiscal decline for the past six years of which you have direct oversight,” Ginger said. “For example, over the past two years, $885,000 had to be transferred.”
Ginger also responded to questions Robinson raised in his letter, specifically why funds from the quarter-cent sales tax for operation of the adult jail (Detention Facilities M&O Reserve Fund) and the Public Safety Sales Tax were used to support District Court.
“Holding cells were placed within the District Court for the purpose of detaining prisoners,” Ginger said. “This qualifies use of those funds if needed. If you recall, Judge [Kim] Bridgforth and you approached the Quorum Court lobbying for the building of the new District Court building, citing savings in transportation costs and that Plea and Arraignment could be held in an expedited manner.”
Regarding Robinson’s question about why he was not made aware of a revenue shortfall, Ginger said County Treasurer Elizabeth Rinchuso provided a revenue projection in September 2012 before the budget process for 2013 began.
“It is the responsibility of the Elected Officials and Department Heads to submit budgets adhering to the County Treasurer’s revenue projections,” Ginger said.
Finally, Robinson asked if all the revenue that was gained from the sale of the old jail to the Department of Corrections had been spent, and said Public Safety funds were used in the initial construction of the jail, so any leftover money should have been appropriated or deposited back to public safety.
In his response, Ginger said the old county jail that was built in the 1980s used funds generated from the interest and refinancing of housing bonds approved by the Quorum Court for the purpose of building that jail.
“The Public Safety Sales Tax was not voted on and passed until 1993 so it would have been chronologically impossible to use those funds,” Ginger said. “To claim that the funds derived from that sale should be repppropriated back to Public Safety is grossly inaccurate. This is yet another example of your gross misrepresentation of the facts.
“Rest assured that the Quorum Court will continue its commitment to work with you and all department heads to stay within the constitutionally established budget guidelines,” Ginger said.