Shaking our head over budget woes

The donnybrook over Jefferson County budgets for the sheriff’s department, adult jail and juvenile detention center has gone on far too long. We know from reading state law that the county must provide a sheriff’s department and jail, but can’t find a statute requiring a juvenile detention center.

Sheriff Gerald Robinson has accused the Quorum Court of failing to ensure adequate funding of some departments and approve a realistic budget for others.

In a letter to Public Safety/Emergency Services Committee Chairman Dr. Herman Ginger, Robinson said he believes the sheriff’s office and the detention facilities it operates — the adult jail and juvenile detention center — are “bearing the burden of the county’s shortfalls.”

Robinson reacted to a decision by Ginger to pull proposed six-month county budgets for the adult jail, juvenile detention center and the public safety sales tax allocations, which provides funding for the juvenile center and sheriff’s department during Tuesday’s committee meetings.

Ginger contended the sheriff’s department and the detention centers were over budget, and if the three budgets were extended for another three months, “they would be approximately $300,000 in arrears.”

Both the adult jail and juvenile center are currently operating with three-month budgets, which will expire at the end of March. The same is true of the public safety sales tax line item in the budget, which also provides funding for volunteer fire departments.

The issue surfaced after County Treasurer Elizabeth Rinchuso projected a revenue shortfall of approximately $2 million for 2013, after budgets for every other county agency and department had been submitted and approved for the year.

The legislative body’s lack of action on the budgets for the sheriff’s department, adult jail and juvenile center leaves “our departments on the hook for a decade of oversights and gross financial responsibility,” Robinson countered. Why should public safety “disproportionately bear the burden of the county’s shortfalls?” he asked.

Robinson went on to say that the sheriff’s office “has never expended beyond their annual budget approved by the governing body.”

The sheriff’s programs — “pay for stay,” the jail commissary, four Clean Teams, recycling efforts, fees from prisoner telephone calls and state and federal seizures – have increased revenues, which has us scratching our heads when assessing a shortfall.

State law requires that county governments must fund courts first, then law enforcement protection and the custody of people accused or convicted of crimes second, followed by real and personal property tax administration, court and public records management and finally other services prescribed by state law for the performance of each elected county officer or department of county government.

Justices of the peace should offer long-term funding solutions, not a Band-Aid approach or an ax. This funding issue is in areas where a scalpel is needed.

Library technology

The Pine Bluff/Jefferson County Library System is moving to catch up on current technology and get an early start on the future, with its board of trustees helping to chart the course.

The board wants to bring the system more in line with present capabilities and establish better service to library patrons, all within the constraints of a “flat” budget that presently isn’t showing growth.

Directors voted unanimously to approve a five-year contract for a “SocialFlow” library program, adding services such as an online card catalog system, incorporating social media technology.

More and more libraries are turning to “loaning” books electronically via the Internet, with patrons reading the books on tablets and computers. Changing approaches means more residents can use library services.