Welcome aboard one more time. We had a busy week. We had a horrible week. And it was a very long week. I have just a few topics on my mind today and in many respects, I am not sure if or what I should say about these topics.
We were called to a double fatality incident this week where two young men were found dead in a car. There is a lot I could say and a lot that I probably should stay quiet about with regard to this incident. This is an intensely tragic and personal issue for the families and friends of the deceased. These folks would probably prefer that I not comment on the deaths. For the record, I would like to say that I have known Robby since he was in the third grade. His father was a good friend and it pained me to be at the scene of the deaths.
However, I am also the sheriff of the county and there is a great deal of concern and idle rumor about these deaths going around the county. I feel that I must comment. The autopsy has been completed on both young men and there was absolutely zero sign of trauma or foul play found. The rumor that they were shot is just that, a baseless rumor that is completely false. As for the carbon monoxide rumor, there was no sign of carbon monoxide poisoning visible to us. It is unfortunate, but in this incident we are all going to have to wait for the toxicology part of the autopsy to come back with the hidden answers such a report details. Until then, we all need to take a chill pill and cease repeating baseless rumors. When I have specific answers I will release that information to the media and the citizens of Pulaski County.
This past week we also lost our presiding commissioner and we await the news of who will be appointed as our new presiding commissioner. This appointment will have a great impact on the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office.
I have been asked for my views on this issue all of this past week. I find myself in a position where many of my views will remain just that, my views, and I will not share some of these views. On the other hand, this change in county leadership will be critical for us and once again I feel that as sheriff it is my duty to say a few things.
First and foremost, I wish the new man the best of luck. He is walking into a very rough financial position. The primary duty of the presiding commissioner is to conduct the weekly meetings and to act as the chief budget officer for the county. The finance part is going to be a very hard job. Over the past five years in this column, I have taken great pains to lay out the financial shortfalls of my office and to detail how those shortfalls in money impact the service that we can provide to the citizens of Pulaski County. My detractors call this “whining.” I call it the process of educating the public. Many of our citizens had no clue what the sheriff’s office did before I took office.
Today, I am once again going to talk finance and the county budget but I am going to expand my view. I have used as an example for five years now the simple fact that the commissioners have never given me a single penny in five years to purchase a car. A patrol car for a sheriff’s office is just as important as the deputy’s firearm. Maybe the car is more important to us because the deputy may never use the firearm in the line of duty but he uses the car every working day. Yet the commissioners do not give us money for cars.
It just so happens that the budget for the Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office is printed on the bottom half of the same page as my jail budget. So I can tell you for a fact that the prosecutor, who operates one of the most work-intensive legal offices in Pulaski County, got a whopping total of $1,000 in the 2009 approved budget for office supplies. I can also tell you that she has been forced by this budget shortfall to turn to the CLERF fund board of directors and ask for outside funds to run her office.
The Pulaski County Circuit Clerk, who does run the most work-intensive legal office in Pulaski County, did not get a penny in the 2009 budget for office supplies. I am sure her yearly office supply bill will be well over the $10,000 mark. Yet she received not one cent for office supplies.
So are the nasty old commissioners just being mean to the sheriff, the prosecuting attorney, and the circuit clerk? Are they withholding funds for political reasons? The answer to both is NO. They are not giving us the funds we need to work with because THEY DO NOT HAVE THE FUNDS TO GIVE. The single half-cent sales tax that gives Pulaski County the money to work with only brings in about $1.85 million each year. It does not cover everything that is needed. Costs rise each year and the budget coverage shrinks each year.
I understand that the taxpayers do not want to furnish the courthouse with something outlandish like gold-plated toilet paper, but what about necessary operating supplies that are required to do the job? I think that is a very different proposition. The cases and cases of copy paper and toner that are needed to churn out all of the required legal paperwork each day at the courthouse are being used on cases involving Pulaski County citizens. In other words, your tax money is hard at work on your legal cases and the lack of an office budget could affect your case. Is that what you want?
Many of you will say “How can this be? I paid my taxes.” It just so happens that the county tax bills came out this week. I would ask you to take a long look at where your property tax goes. You will not see a line that says Pulaski County General Revenue fund. All of the tax money on that bill goes to a specific place and the general revenue fund that gives my office and the prosecuting attorney and the clerk the money we need to work with is not one of those places.
So yes, I believe that the new commissioner will have his work cut out for him and I have not even mentioned the repayment needed for the $150,000 loan that was necessary to get us through the 2008 budget year.
Now that I have ruffled a lot of feathers I would like to close out once again by reminding everyone to drive with care and to keep your actions legal. We do not want your jail business but we still have enough money to pay the light bill. The lights are ON!