Waiting to pass the budget

Published 10:42 am Friday, December 5, 2014

Commissioners want more money certified

It may be worth the wait.

At its Thursday meeting the county commissioners postponed passing the 2015 budget for another week until they find out if they can have about $500,000 more in revenue.

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And at least one member of the budget commission is saying “Probably, yes.”

Before the commissioners can appropriate money, the budget commission, made up of the county treasurer, county auditor and county prosecutor, must certify that the funds are there now or will be there that year.

Earlier this week Commission President Les Boggs made a formal request to the budget commission to change its 2015 general fund certification from $10.7 million to $11.2 million for the general fund.

In 2014 the general fund certification was $150,090 less than the amount for the upcoming year.

“That ($10.7 million) is not enough to do,” Boggs said at the meeting. “We voted we would do (the move of the county jail to Franklin Furnace). We think with the extra there is money.”

In March the state offered the county a 100-unit section of the former Ohio River Valley Juvenile Correctional Facility for its jail, which has been under siege for more than a year mainly because of overcrowding.

If current state jail regulations were followed, the county jail should only house 27 inmates. Typically a daily census is between 70 to 100 prisoners.

The remainder of the juvenile facility would be used by STAR Community Justice Center that offers an alternative to prison through a rehabilitative program when assignment there is approved by a judge.

Sheriff Jeff Lawless has repeatedly said he wants enough funds to make the move safely for prisoners and corrections officers. That includes increasing the jail staff to 32. However, Lawless hasn’t started hiring additional officers because he hasn’t received commission approval to do so.

“I am very concerned that the commissioners are not going to provide me the proper amount of funds to safely and legally run this jail,” Lawless said. “It is going to be hugely expensive and I have been expressing how expensive it will be since the start. They continue to tell me to make this a go.”

Boggs and Commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. contend there is the money for the move, if the budget commission increases the certification, on top of cost-savings from shared services with STAR such as with the laundry and kitchen, once the move is made.

Commissioner Bill Pratt would like to see Lawless make the move with the staff he has now and increase that when more funding is available.

County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson says he thinks the money is there.

“I believe compared with historic revenues, we will be able to meet the request (to increase certification),” he said.

County Treasurer Stephen Burcham also thinks increased certification is possible.

“With sales tax, casino revenue, property taxes up, I am encouraged we may be able to meet that request,” Burcham said.

However, County Auditor Jason Stephens contends the figures do not support a change in certification.

“It is not a political issue, but a math issue,” he said. “There must be an additional dedicated revenue source or funds and programs severely cut from what we are doing for a new jail or to make a bigger operation work.

“The budget commission’s role is not to decide what the needs of the county are. The role is to provide an estimate of revenue that the commissioners can utilize.

“Just because there may be a particular need, it is not the budget commission’s role to certify or not certify. The commission has shown in the past they are willing to appropriate every penny that is certified.

“We must be aware of that, and in my opinion, somebody has to make sure the county is not going to go broke. As a member of the budget commission I will do everything to keep that from happening.”