The Stephens County Excise-Equalization Board approved a $261,365.48 supplement to the 2012-13 budget for the sheriff’s office Tuesday after lengthy discussion between the board: Gary Ledford, Todd Churchman and Leroy Loveless; Sheriff Wayne McKinney and Undersheriff John Smith.
The request was passed to the board after a recommendation for approval after the Stephens County Board of County Commissioners Monday. The approved amount will be taken out of the county’s emergency fund, which currently totals over $4.4 million.
The sheriff felt this amount was necessary in order to maintain operations through the end of the year. If the amount was not approved, Smith said the office would be operating completely out of cash fund accounts for May and June. According to state statutes, budget officers are legally not allowed to be looked at when determining the budget for an office.
The vote to approve the supplement was passed with approving votes from Ledford and Loveless while Churchman recommended the board not pass this item.
Controversy did ensue during the meeting because the additional request will be causing the county to spend more this year than they had available for the budget.
“The original numbers that we budgeted off last year would be in the red,” Churchman said.
Although some offices did ask for increased funds in this year’s budget, for the most part each office received the funding they had received during the previous fiscal year to avoid going over the available funds by about $200,000. The Stephen’s County Sheriff’s Office was the only county office to have a budget cut.
“Here is the bottom line,” McKinney said. “The bottom line is I feel that my budget was cut arbitrarily and capriciously. No other county office was cut. We were not at windfall that year. We were cut $204,000. We are trying to fund a department that is doing their job, trying to do their job. I certainly do not have a problem augmenting what is going on because that is why we have been able to do it. We have been taking the initiative to do it. I also feel, under the law, what happened is against state statute. I am not in here to argue with you guys today. The bottom line is I need a decision and I need a decision quick. I am going to get a decision gentlemen.”
The sheriff asked for additional funds over the $204,000 that were cut in order to be able to pay for the 5 percent salary increases that went into effect during this fiscal year and for the hiring of additional personnel.
“With an office that has grown like yours has, the general fund cannot afford that growth,” Churchman said. “It just cannot. If you are growing your personnel and you are growing your equipment and you are growing your funds too, you are adequately funded.”
“Growth costs money,” he said. “The costs have been met and you are still growing your personal funds. You have been able to compensate that growth and still grow your personal funds too. It is hard for me to understand how you can be inadequately funded when you are growing exponentially.
The sheriff’s office currently has over $2 million dollars available in cash funds to use as he sees fit.
“I am pretty sure these funds are not restricted,” Ledford said. “You can use them for whatever you need to. Other county offices are doing that. The thing we have to look at is making sure we are not spending more than we are taking in.”
While these funds are to be used at the sheriff’s discretion, the budget committee is not allowed to consider these when creating the budget. McKinney said he has met the county halfway in this by purchasing vehicles, fuel and equipment out of this account. His goal is to be able to pay his staff using only funds in his general accounts.
“The county has not been funding the Sheriff’s Department adequately,” McKinney said. “The reason this department has grown is the crime rate has grown in this county. The activity has grown. We average a murder every year. We have violent home invasions just here recently. That is what happening. Times have changed.”
The sheriff’s office is planning on hiring more deputies in order to not only respond to calls appropriately but also to reduce the amount of comp time that his deputies have accumulated. Many of the deputies currently have anywhere between 300 and 1400 hours of comp time.
“We still are faced with this issue of comp time,” McKinney said. “We are still faced with the issue of not having the manpower to respond to the calls in a safe manner. Sometimes we only have one deputy working the whole county. We need a minimum of three deputies working the county to respond to the calls that we have and the type of violent calls that we have coming in now.”
Had the supplement not been approved within about a week, the sheriff’s office was prepared to pursue legal action. Similar lawsuits have been filed in other counties such as a case in Canadian County. The sheriff’s office was awarded the supplement in these cases.
Sheriff McKinney provided the board a packet including legal opinions from District Attorney Jason Hicks, the Oklahoma Attorney General and the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The packet also included several letters by McKinney as well as examples of similar situations.
In order to follow state laws and avoid litigation, the board did approve the request.