Muscogee County Sheriff defends budget issues - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

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Muscogee County Sheriff defends budget issues

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COLUMBUS, Ga. - Spending more than what's in the allotted budget has become a common trend for the Muscogee County Sheriff's Department -- costing tax payers millions of dollars.

The Sheriff's Department's five-year deficit totals $7 million dollars, on track to make it $9 million dollars after this fiscal year. Last year, council gave him some guidelines to reduce the deficit. He says he's met most of those expectations, but some, he says, are out of his control.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has called the Sheriff's budget issues a mismanagement of funds, but Sheriff Darr stood in front of council Tuesday night to tell them that was not the case.

“We are managing the things that we can manage, but the things that we cannot manage are going up,” said Darr.

Darr says inmate healthcare is one of the contributors to the budget deficit and he can't control the fluctuating costs of healthcare. He says rising healthcare costs are universal and affecting everyone, including inmates; however he says he can't raise premiums and co-pays to help offset the cost.

The overall cost of properly housing inmates has also risen and he says he has limited control on the costs required to hold inmates.

“It has nothing to do with mismanagement,” says Darr. “It is just the fact of the matter that when you have an increase, in whatever it is, we have to make adjustments.”

Something he does have control over is paying extra time for employees. Council asked Darr to cut 30% of gap time and overtime, he says he's on track to cut 40%. Council also requested salary savings of about $985,000, but he told council this is unrealistic because it would force him to eliminate about 20 positions. Darr says if this happens, public safety in Muscogee County would be compromised.

“To do what's required of us and what's expected of us, it takes a certain number of employees and there's a cost associated with that,” says Darr.

Darr told council the conversion of vehicles to propane gas has also helped reduce the costs and has helped the city receive a rebate on propane purchases.

The $2 million deficit from last year will be offset from the jail reserve fund, according to a presentation provided by Mayor Tomlinson. It has not been decided what will be done about this fiscal year's deficit.

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David Hurst

David Hurst, a graduate of the Univ. of Georgia, focuses on how your tax dollars are being spent.
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