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County deficit now exceeds $130,000; sheriff, jail blamed for overruns

PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Dec. 8, 2008) — Most of Pulaski County’s departmental budgets are in fairly good shape, County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer reported Monday morning to the county commissioners, except for the sheriff’s department and county jail sections in the budget’s public safety division.

Those two budgets will force Pulaski County to take out a loan that’s likely to exceed $100,000 so bills can be paid before the end of the year. That hasn’t happened for decades but used to be frequent, said Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall.

“I spoke to one of the clerks in the old days when they ran a deficit every year,” Ransdall said. “They borrowed against tax revenue and paid it off, and then borrowed again.”

The county’s final budget data won’t be available until Dec. 12 when the last bills for the year are due. As of Monday, Linnenbringer reported that the jail is over budget by $73,186 and the rest of the sheriff’s department is over budget by $63,174.

Ransdall thanked Linnenbringer and her staff for keeping close watch on the budget and providing detailed periodic reports to the commissioners.

“These numbers will change a little bit; for example, we’re expecting about $10,000 from the state for prisoner board, but the rest will stay pretty much the same,” Ransdall said.

While the county has spent $366,521 so far this year to send overflow inmates to the Phelps County jail, Miller County jail and Dixon city jail, Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall said there isn’t a realistic alternative.

“Building a jail isn’t the answer,” Ransdall said. “The cost is still $54 per day to hold a prisoner and we’re paying $35 per day for someone else to hold them.”

Ransdall said the only way to make money on jail expenses is to hold federal prisoners, and there’s no guarantee that Pulaski County would ever be able to get federal prisoners.

Commissioners discussed whether there’s any way to cut costs or receive some benefit from the county inmates and noted that state prison inmates are used by the Missouri Department of Transportation to work on state roads.

“I’ve always felt we ought to go the way Sheriff Joe Arpaio (in Arizona) does things. He’s pretty tough on them out in the desert making them stay in tents in 120 degree heat, and here it’s cold,” Thornsberry said. “But there are legalities of what would happen if one of them got out and something happened.”

Thornsberry said many inmates might welcome the opportunity to do work outside the jail and said some inmates would be good candidates for work details.

“We’ve got people out there who have bad checks and are not a threat to anyone,” Thornsberry said. “I think it should be looked at, but the judges won’t let them do it. I understand there is liability, but in years past we have had people who worked as trustys and worked around the courthouse cleaning bathrooms and doing things like that.”

Thornsberry wasn’t happy about the cost overruns in the non-jail portion of the sheriff’s department and said about $50,000 to $55,000 of the overrun is due to payments of compensatory time to deputies who leave the county and have to be given a check for unused comp time.

Thornsberry noted that some counties have a limit on how much comp time their employees can collect, but Commissioner Bill Farnham said that might not help in Pulaski County. Due to lack of personnel, Sheriff J.B. King calls in employees on comp time when other employees are sick, take vacation time, or have to be pulled off patrol duty for court testimony or bailiff duty.

“If people would start behaving better and we didn’t have so much crime, we wouldn’t have this problem,” Farnham said. “Once the sheriff arrests them, it’s the responsibility of the county judges and the prosecutor to move them along.”

Other budgets could also see problems. County Prosecutor Deborah Hooper is $7,122 over budget in her department, and while the county clerk’s election fund is currently balanced, it may not stay that way.

Former Pulaski County Sheriff J.T. Roberts, who lost his November election bid to King by a 38-vote margin, has filed court papers asking not only for a hand-recount but also for a new election in which the ballots would be counted by hand. It’s not clear how much a new election or a recount will cost, but any new election will have to wait until next year, Linnenbringer said.

That’s not necessarily the case for a recount.

“It would have to come out of the elections portion if we had to have a recount before the end of the year,” Linnenbringer said.

Responding to questions, Ransdall said there’s probably no state money available to help Pulaski County with the costs of a recount or a new election.

“A recount would be strictly local so it comes out of our budget. Even if you recount a state race, we pay for it,” Ransdall said.

In other business:

• Local electrical contractor Kris York called commissioners and asked them to schedule a power outage for Saturday so he can hook up a new emergency power generator. York suggested turning up the heat for several hours beforehand in the sheriff’s department — the only county office that’s regularly open on Saturday — to make sure there won’t be a warmth problem for inmates or staff.

• Linnenbringer reported that Pulaski County received $30,000 less in sales tax for November than for the same month last year, but said year-to-date sales tax receipts are still up by 1.3 percent. The county had budgeted for a 5 percent increase in sales tax.

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