Sheriff defends decisions on new building, cars


The war of words over the 2013 budgets for the adult jail, juvenile detention center and public safety sales tax continued Monday when Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson defended his decisions to buy new cars and proceed with construction on the new sheriff’s department building.

Robinson also said the juvenile detention center has “never been funded property,” making supplemental appropriations necessary.

In a six=page letter to Justice of the Peace Herman Ginger, chairman of the Quorum Court’s Public Safety/Emergency Services Committee, Robinson refuted Ginger’s statement last week that he offered no meaningful contributions during special meetings of the Quorum Court’s Finance Committee on Jan. 2 and Feb. 8.

Robinson said the sheriff’s department, which operates both the adult jail and juvenile detention center, reviewed budgets and “found $708,000 in unused salaries, fringe benefits and unused funds that could be reallocated.

“That figure includes two unfilled full-time Juvenile Detention positions and three unfilled part-time positions,” Robinson said. “On Feb. 8, I also offered the suggestion that $100,000 be taken from Rural Fire and another $300,000 from Reserve Fund.”

Rural Fire also receives money (typically $200,000 per year) from the Public Safety Sales Tax.

“I also offered the suggestion that you along with the governing body bring every department head in and assess their budgets, which is what should have been done prior to budget approvals,” Robinson said. “Instead, you, along with fellow committee members approved each department’s budget, while rejecting mine again and again, leaving my department to disproportionately bear the burden of the entire county’s economic shortfalls.”

Ginger is also a member of the Quorum Court’s Finance Committee.

Monday night, Ginger said he had received a copy of Robinson’s letter, but had not read it, and would not have a response to it immediately.

Regarding the claim that the juvenile center has not been properly funded, Robinson said the 2012 budget for the center was $1.9 million, but the court appropriated only $800,000 to the center initially, while all other county agencies and departments received their full fiscal year appropriation.

“The Juvenile Center was then required to generate the remaining $1.1 million in revenue to complete the budget funding,” Robinson said.

He said the juvenile center generated $600,000 in revenue and received an additional $500,000 in a supplemental appropriation to complete the budget.

“Therefore, it is a total misconception to imply that the Juvenile Center is receiving supplemental appropriation,” Robinson said. “Had the Juvenile Center received a fully funded budget appropriation at the beginning of the fiscal year, there would have been no need for any additional funding requests.”

Robinson said revenues for the juvenile detention center now far exceed revenues from previous years, and that the center finished 2012 $116,870.82 under budget.

“Nonetheless, we have continued to work diligently in an effort to help resolve budget issues,” Robinson said. “As you are aware, just today, the Division of Youth Services’ State Administrator, Kim Luckett, agreed to increase the number of juveniles housed at our facility,” Robinson said. “He stated he would achieve this by making Jefferson County the primary facility for housing state juveniles.”

Regarding the decision to proceed with the new sheriff’s department building, which Ginger said in a letter last week he “had great reservations about,” Robinson said the issue initially surfaced after several incidents involving staff members who had partial ceilings and brick walls collapse on them, “putting their lives in imminent danger and leaving the County susceptible to class-action lawsuits by County employees for injuries sustained or wrongful deaths.

“Additionally, the looming threat of the possibility that as each day passes, my personnel could be exposed to building mold and/or asbestos is very real,” Robinson said. “It is a threat that I don’t take lightly.”

Regarding the department’s vehicles, Ginger was critical of trading in a 2009 Chrysler 300 for a 2012 Chrysler 300, and said the cost associated with that trade-in was $32,115, and required a formal bid process — which didn’t take place.

In his letter Monday, Robinson described that information as “inaccurate,” saying the purchase was actually a 2011 Chrysler 300 and the purchase price was $15,715, less trade-in, and the purchase qualified for an exemption from the formal bid process.

Regarding the five new Dodge Chargers, Robinson said they were bought under guidelines set out in state law for fleet purchases, thereby saving the county money.

As proof, Robinson offered a chart showing a $23,163 sale price for three of the cars bought, compared with a list price of $29,995. Two additional Dodge Chargers were bought at a price of $23,605, compared with a list price of $29,995 while two Chevrolet Tahoes were purchased at a price of $25,093 compared with a list price of $44,980.

Robinson said typically, sheriff’s department vehicles are taken out of service when they reach 150,000 miles, but because of economic conditions, some cars currently in use have more miles than that.

“I would prefer to turn over vehicles at 80,000 miles because I feel the higher mileages, major issues and expenses, such as transmission and engine problems frequently occur as we have seen in past years,” Robinson said.

He said that the departments’s Patrol Division recorded 498,552 miles last year, and thus far this year, has recorded 74,319.

“These figures do not include my department’s transport, service and warrants division,” Robinson said.

The sheriff also responded directly to a statement Ginger made questioning Robinson’s commitment to the duties of the office and the people of Jefferson County.

“My commitment to the citizens of Jefferson County, Arkansas, who duly elected me comes first and is unmatched,” Robinson said. “That commitment is shared equally in regards to my personnel, who share my visions of providing them with the best available tools and resources to carry out their duties, as well as providing safe shelter to perform those duties in an environment that is conducive and doesn’t threaten their health and life,” Robinson said.

Robinson also said Ginger misinterpreted facts regarding the funds used to build the old county jail, which was sold to the Arkansas Department of Corrections when the new jail was opened.

In his letter, Ginger said the money to build the old jail in the 1980s was from interest and refinancing of housing bonds approved by the Quorum Court for that purpose.

“Those funds were issued through a housing bond meant for law enforcement, justifying the construction of JCDC (Jefferson County Detention Center),” Robinson said. “Therefore, the monies derived from the sale of JCDC should have been returned or deposited into a fund in which it was originally meant to be.”