After weeks of negotiations, presentations and meetings, Columbus Council appears poised to approve Mayor Teresa Tomlinsons proposed budget of about $24.8 million for the Muscogee County Sheriffs Office.
Thats about $2 million less than Sheriff John Darr had originally requested. But city Finance Director Pam Hodge told councilors she met with Darr last Thursday and Friday and found about $1 million in savings in his budget, lowering the gap between his proposal and the mayors to about $1 million.
Should council follow through on its discussions at Tuesdays Budget Review Committee meeting. Council would approve the $24.8 million but hold $1 million in abeyance until the sheriffs budget could be revisited at mid fiscal year.
Tomlinson was the one who recommended the approach to the councilors as they were struggling with how to fund the sheriffs budget within a proposed city budget of about $263 million.
Im feeling pretty good about it, Tomlinson said. Weve made a lot of progress. In just seven days we were able to reduce (Darrs) request by about a million dollars.
Tomlinson said by revisiting the budget at mid-year, councilors will have a better idea of how much money the will actually have to work with for the second half of the year. She also thinks Hodge might be able to find another million in savings, given several months to work at it.
We have identified some suggested savings, especially in the jail clinic contract, and those could be substantial, Tomlinson said. Theres no reason not to save money if you can save money without impacting operations. I think were going to be able to find a million dollars there if we have enough time.
Darr disagreed with Hodges and Tomlinsons assessment of potential savings, saying he didnt think they had produced anyway near $1 million. But he said he would have no problem with the mayors proposal to fund his budget at her recommended level with the understanding that it would be revisited at mid-year.
That should be fine, Darr said. I trust the council to fund the budget at the level it needs to be funded.
Darrs budget has been an issue for some time. In his first five years in office, he has overspent his budget every year, racking up $7 million in accumulated deficits in that period, according to city records.
The overspending, Darr says, is the result of a budget that is insufficient to carry out the legal and constitutional obligations of his office. Increasing demands placed on the sheriffs office by the county jail, its medical clinic and burgeoning demands from the court system exceed the amount of money the city budgets for the office, he has said.
Council is to iron out its add/delete list at the end of tonights meeting, then will hold a first reading on the budget ordinance June 10. Council will then hold a second reading June 24 and vote to approve the new budget, which will take effect July 1.