Facing a projected $2 million deficit this fiscal year, Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr said he would be forced to eliminate 20 positions to save nearly an expected $1 million.
Darr told the 10-member Columbus Council that many costs in hours worked by staff, inmate health care and the cost of serving papers in the department can't be controlled within his $27.2 million budget. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and council have tried to control costs in the Sheriff's Office with deficits starting at $672,700 in 2009 and increasing to more than 200 percent by fiscal 2013.
Costs in the Sheriff's Office are a big concern as the city braces for a $3 million shortfall in health care costs.
"Primarily, the salary savings expected for the current fiscal year is $985,145, and in order to achieve the expected salary savings, I would have to eliminate 20 positions within the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office," Darr said Tuesday in a statement to council. "The Sheriff's Office must be fully staffed in order to meet the specific requirements set forth by Georgia law, demands of other city departments and the expectations of the citizens of Muscogee County."
Under a 1999 federal consent decree with the Department of Justice, the sheriff said salary savings absolutely cannot surmount safety and security of the employees and inmates at the Muscogee County Jail.
Darr noted that 85 percent to 90 percent of the problems in the budget are related to the jail. Last year, the jail with a daily capacity of 1,069 had 14,372 inmates go through the facility. The daily capacity was 1,132.
"The things we cannot manage are going up," Darr said. "That's all related to the county jail, the costs associated with housing and treating the medical side of inmates incarcerated."
To treat the inmates, staff passes out 2,400 prescriptions a day in a facility where 77 percent of the inmates get some kind of medical care.
"We run a small city," he said. "We really do."
Darr said the sheriff's department is on track to cut about 40 percent from his budget for gap time and staff overtime. While the total has run at more than $800,000 a year, it is expected to hit $540,000 this fiscal year that ends in June.
Most of the money is for employees being paid for the hours they worked.
"It is not overtime," the sheriff said.
The Sheriff's Office is expected to spend about $100,000 over his fuel budget of $220,000.
"I can't control the rising cost of gas," he said. "It's not because of mismanagement."
Councilor C.E. "Red" McDaniel questioned Darr on the use of money seized in drug crimes. He wondered if the money could be used to offset his budget.
Darr said the seized money must go back into the fund for drug investigations.
Councilor Glenn Davis wants an accounting of vehicles running on propane and maintenance.
Darr said fewer vehicles are running on propane now after the department bought newer Dodge patrol cars that don't run on the cheaper fuel.
Tomlinson voiced concerns about getting a bookkeeping professional to track the budget in the department.
"We are still looking at that," the sheriff said.