Quorum Court approves budgets, less than sheriff’s requests

With just five days to spare, the Jefferson County Quorum Court approved 2013 budgets for the adult jail, juvenile detention center and the Public Safety Sales Tax during a special meeting Tuesday night.

Both the adult jail and juvenile center had been operating on three-month extensions of their 2012 budgets, and the same was true for the Public Safety Sales Tax, which among other things provides money for rural fire departments in the county. Those extensions will run out on Sunday.

The county’s legislative body approved a 2013 budget of $1.33 million for the juvenile center, less than the $1.83 million Sheriff Gerald Robinson had requested, and just over $3.512 million for the adult jail, less than the more than $4.4 million asked for by Robinson.

“We have a budget from the sheriff that exceeds revenue guidelines,” Public Safety/Emergency Services Committee Chairman Herman Ginger said, dealing first with the juvenile center budget. “We can’t spend money we don’t have.”

Justice of the Peace Conley Byrd moved to approve the $1.3 million but a second to that motion took several minutes, with Justice of the Peace Edward Spears saying the $1.3 million “would not be enough,” and Justice of the Peace Lloyd Franklin II asking if plans had been considered to provide the additional revenue.

“This is a starting point,” County Judge Dutch King said. “If ways can be found to make additional revenue, that will go back into the fund.”

Robinson said the $1.8 million request was for the full year, and if additional revenue could not be found, “we will have to come back and ask for a supplemental appropriation.”

Ginger said a possible way to increase revenue for the juvenile center would be to contact sheriffs in surrounding counties that don’t have juvenile detention centers about the possibility of housing their juvenile prisoners here.

He said the White River Juvenile Detention Center at Batesville charges $75 per day to pick up juveniles around the state and transport them to Batesville, and $65 per day if no transport is involved.

“I’m not about to make cuts without suggesting alternatives,” Ginger said. “The sheriff’s office has got vehicles and officers to transport and if we could get enough juveniles from DYS (Department of Youth Services) and surrounding counties, our problems would be over.”

Lee Johnson, administrator at the juvenile center, said efforts had been made before to get more juveniles from surrounding counties with only limited success, but the center has been in contact with DYS, which has agreed to make Pine Bluff its primary center for housing juveniles.

“We went from 11 juveniles from DYS to 22 in a month,” Johnson said.

“We feel the plight of the sheriff’s office but the Quorum Court can’t appropriate more than what we’ve got,” Byrd said. “Assuming that you can’t make up the money, you can always come back and try to supplement it but we have no choice tonight. It doesn’t close the door forever.”

As he has before, Robinson complained that “the Juvenile Justice Center has never been properly funded. They’ve been given $800,000 (from the Public Safety Sales Tax) every year and it costs more to run it than that.

“The $1.3 million is a start and we have no choice but to accept that because April 1 I want my people to get paid,”

Robinson said. “When we make the budget for next year, I don’t want to be left out in the cold and want to be involved in trying to fix the budget the way it should be.”

After the vote to approve the juvenile budget by the Public Safety/Emergency Services Committee, discussion moved to the adult jail budget, with Ginger again saying that the budget submitted by the sheriff, just over $4.4 million, also exceeded budget guidelines, while the budget that the committee was asked to approve, $3.512 million, was within those guidelines.

“Nobody wants to be sitting here doing this but we can’t borrow money, and we can’t give money we don’t have,” Ginger said.

With no further discussion, the $3.512 million passed the committee with no dissent, as did a Public Safety Sales Tax budget of just over $1.76 million. Of that, $200,000 will go to rural fire protection, another $761,625 to the sheriff’s department, and the remaining $800,000 to the juvenile center.

The regular Quorum Court meeting where all three budgets were approved lasted only five minutes, followed by sighs of relief from volunteer firefighters from throughout the county concerned about their money, as well as from juvenile center employees who filled the room.

County Treasurer Elizabeth Rinchuso said after the meeting that actual hits on the juvenile and adult jail budgets will be lessened because more than $500,000 is currently in the adult jail budget and over $100,000 in the juvenile jail budget to cover fringe benefits for employees that has not been used.

She said those benefits included health insurance coverage for employees and family health insurance coverage that employees did not sign up for, among other things.

“I’m well pleased with the way the Quorum Court was handled with dignity tonight,” Ginger said after the meeting. “There’s a great quote from John Adams that says ‘facts are burdensome’ and that’s what we we dealing with tonight. We were dealing with facts.”