It's Your Money: Mayor, Sheriff argue firing range costs - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

It's Your Money: Mayor, Sheriff argue firing range costs

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

The Muscogee County firing range was built back in 2011 for use by the Marshal’s Office and Sheriff’s Office. Mayor Tomlinson and Sheriff Darr don't seem to be on the same page when it comes to how much of your money has been put into the center.

The firing range was initially budgeted for $70,000 and last year Sheriff Darr went in front of council to request upgrades to the facility that would bring the cost to $1.7 million dollars. He withdrew that request after council indicated that they would not approve what he was asking for.

Mayor Tomlinson made a reference to the $1.7 million dollar figure to our media partner the Ledger-Enquirer during her response to the FOP’s endorsement of her mayoral challenger Colin Martin.

She claimed the reason she wasn't endorsed was because members of the Sheriff’s Office are part of the leadership with the organization, and their ongoing budget debate with issues such as overtime, healthcare and the firing range has caused tension.

Sheriff Darr says the mayor used the $1.7 million dollar figure to make it seem like the office has spent more than they actually have.

“It’s really unfortunate, but we’re in the time right now where a lot of politics are being played,” Darr told News 3 in response to Tomlinson’s comments.

“It's not political, it's budgetary,” Tomlinson responded. “I didn't say the $1.7 million dollars was spent, I said it was part of an active discussion and it has been an active discussion.”

So if the range didn't cost $1.7 million dollars, how much of your money has gone toward it?

Sheriff Darr says a total of $133,913 has been invested into the firing range over the past 3 years total and of that total only $38,791 were general fund tax dollars with the remaining balance coming from Local Option Sales Tax funds.

Mayor Tomlinson says that the firing range’s cost to date is $355,217, with $89,047 coming out of the general fund and the rest coming from the Local Option Sales Tax. The city’s Financial Department confirmed to News 3 these numbers were accurate.

Sheriff Darr goes in front of council next Tuesday to present his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 15. He tells News 3 he will not request the upgrades to the firing range again, but will tell council that his office continues to be underfunded.

Darr went in front of council in February and told councilors that the costs out of his control are going up. He said inmate healthcare is one of the contributors to the Sheriff's Office 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 like the city can to employees.

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,” Darr told council in February. “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.

In Mayor Tomlinson's recommended Fiscal Year 15 budget, she's proposed a 1.5% cut across all city departments. She says she expects the Sheriff's Office to absorb the cut through un-funding vacancies and salary savings.

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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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